MANILA – The top military commander in Southern Mindanao is certain the New People’s Army (NPA) units operating in the region will soon be eradicated as ranking officials have surrendered and are now actively supporting the government’s anti-insurgency programs.
Focused military operation, coupled with community support programs, will spell defeat for the NPA in Mindanao, according to the Philippine Army 10th Infantry “Agila” Division (10ID) commander, Maj. Gen Ernesto C Torres Jr., in a news release on Tuesday.
Torres presented 12 former high-ranking leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) under the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) at a press conference inside Camp General Manuel T. Yan Sr. camp in Tuboran, Mawab, Davao De Oro, simultaneous with the Agila Division’s 15th founding anniversary.
“We need to tell the stories of the former rebels, how they were deceived and exploited, in order to prevent recruitment to the communist terrorist group (CTG),” he said, stressing that his confidence is founded on sustained gains of the 10ID’s intensified operations against armed terrorists.
Torres also reported that in the area of the Agila Division, the 17 guerilla fronts in 2016 have been reduced to just six.
In terms of affected villages, the number sharply dropped from 193 in 2016 to just 12 this year while the number of firearms used by the NPA was reduced from 1,150 five years ago to just 300 now.
Before Duterte ends term
Eastern Mindanao Command head, Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, who also attended the event, said they will neutralize the remaining members of threat groups before the end of the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We are confident that the LGUs (local government units) and government agencies will sustainably address the issues being exploited by the CTGs. I believe that the only way we can end local communist armed conflict is through our collective efforts and performing our mandates religiously," Almerol said.
The former NPA leaders presented during the press conference were Joy James Saguino, alias Che/Ka Amihan, deputy secretary of SRC1 and secretary of SRC1 Peasant Bureau; Christian Pastor, alias Khan, commanding officer of Guerrilla Front 33, SRC 4, SMRC; Eddie Genelsa, alias Lando/Pahak/Brad/Jimbo, vice commanding officer of Regional Operations Committee, SMRC, and NDF consultant; Paulette Santos-Castillo, alias Ella/Yellla/Ba-i/Donna, regional coordinator of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Regional Peasant Secretariat, SMRC; Daniel Louis Castillo, alias Steven, 2nd political instructor of Guerrilla Front 55, SRC 5, SMRC; and Pedro Arnado alias Benoy, regional chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas - Southern Mindanao Region.
The other ex-rebels were Kurt Russel Sosa, alias Ugnay, secretary of WGF 3 and deputy secretary 1 of SRC1, SMRC; Roberto Rosete Jr., alias Alex Bobby/Barley, former commanding officer of NPA Pulang Bagani Battalion, SMRC; Ivan Conan Cael, alias Mackoy/Raprap/Greg, former secretary of SRC3, SMRC; Noel Legazpi, alias Jeffrey/Efren, former 1st deputy secretary of NPA Far South Mindanao Region; Arian Jane Ramos, alias Marikit, former secretary of NPA Guerrilla Front 55, Southern Regional Committee (SRC), SMRC; and Rurelyn Bay-ao alias Mandacawan, leader of indigenous peoples (IP) youth group Bakwit.
The 12 former rebels each talked about the reasons for their surrender, current standing of the CPP-NPA-NDF, connection of NPA to its legal fronts, exploitation of IP members at the Haran Center in Davao, and the effects of Executive Order (EO) 70 on the operations of CTG, among many others.
President Duterte signed EO 70 in December 2018, creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict that employs a whole-of-nation approach to end communism and institute peace-building initiatives.
Saguino said their move to go back to the fold of law is not the end of their fight for social justice and equality.
"We are not red taggers. This is not red tagging. We are only stating facts and the truth as we have the firsthand experience with the CPP-NPA-NDF. Ang pagbabalik namin sa gobyerno (Our return to the government) is not the end of our fight for social justice, equality, and for a better society. At this point we can say tinalikuran namin ang (we turned our backs on the) armed struggle since it causes a lot of casualties. We are giving our commitment to serve the public,” she said.
Legazpi said local and national politicians must work in harmony with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to sustain existing peace and development programs.
Castillo said the root cause of insurgency is poverty and it must be addressed based on the blueprint of the NTF-ELCAC.
"There is a chain that binds them to poverty. We should address the primary economic needs of farmers and we base that on EO 70,” she said
Ramos noted the CPP is imploding and lacks direction.
"It's about mental health, lack of collective efforts within the party, and trust on the struggle," she said. “It’s time to take care of myself and of course, give time to my family. We will continue fighting for rights and our ideologies.” (PR)