MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said that "strategic victory" has been achieved over the New People's Army (NPA) as the insurgents only have 1,800 members as of this time, compared to the 24,000 during its peak in the 1980s.
During the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)'s "Tagged Reloaded" press conference Monday, Aguilar said of the remaining 1,800 NPA members, 400 of them are already identified and facing criminal charges.
He added that all of them are the subject of "focused military operations".
"They should think of getting back to their families and to the folds of the law," he added.
Aguilar said some of those identified NPA fighters are holding key positions in the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), a factor that must be considered, as they are the ones holding their comrades not to surrender or "waiting to be given graceful exit."
He said that over the past few months, more than 600 NPA members were either killed in combat operations or voluntarily surrendered to the government, further reducing the figure from more than 2,400 back in 2008.
"Because of that, we have reduced the number of guerilla fronts. When before there were five active guerilla fronts, this is now reduced to one, with the dismantling of two guerilla fronts, and weakening of two. That one active guerilla front is located, operating somewhere in (the) northern part of Samar," Aguilar said.
The AFP spokesperson also said that they are now focusing the necessary forces there to prevent and suppress violence that could come from this guerilla front.
Dismantling the politico-military structure of the CPP-NPA-NDF is the key objective of the AFP to achieve a total victory.
This can only be achieved "when the CPP is no longer capable of mounting atrocities or violent activities that will harm our community and disrupt our progress."
"Now, this also calls for the clearing of all affected barangays or even those threatened to make sure that when this shift is focused on territorial defense operation (TDO), there will be no ISO (internal security operation) problem to look back, and by that... we expect that with the guidance and direction given by the President, we will be moving for you will be shifting to TDO. All of us are united towards that purpose," Aguilar said.
Aguilar said the AFP is not abandoning its mandate for peaceful resolution of the local communist armed conflict as President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.'s "bringers of peace" and as a potent instrument of unity.
"What is important is to win them back," Aguilar said, noting that the AFP is very much open to recommending that "amnesty" should be offered to the insurgents.
"Amnesty is one way to end the insurgents," he said, but to the leftist rebels, all the AFP spokesperson could recommend is to surrender and be one of their former comrades who was enlightened by the many interventions the government has done to them and their supporters since the inception of the NTF-ELCAC.
Aguilar said the NPA's dwindled and weakened forces could no longer sustain their operations and advance political strategy, as even the residents and their local executives are turning their backs on them.
"They (CPP-NPA-NDF) were declared 'persona non grata'," Aguilar said, referring to most places the Communist Terrorist Group have infested but were cleared by the 'focused military operations' that drove them, and where the NTF-ELCAC poured projects for the development of these communities.
"We want to achieve total victory, for them not to be capable of carrying (out) atrocities again," Aguilar said, echoing the directives of the President to the AFP.
"We should end the local armed conflict now; we cannot let them stay for another 50 years," he said, echoing the AFP top brass' call to eliminate this year the remaining active front.
Aguilar said the AFP has been successful in dismantling the NPA mass bases and the removal of sectoral organizations as sources of funds and recruits. Most importantly, Aguilar said, those efforts being made by the NTF-ELCAC in rallying national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) to bring basic social services to far-flung communities vulnerable to NPA influence.
"For the LGUs, they should be giving spaces for the NPA to launch their tactical offensives. This is total victory," Aguilar added.
Earlier, AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino said the successful ISO against the NPA insurgents and local terrorist groups will allow the military to shift its resources to external defense operations or missions concerning territorial defense.
“The AFP under the banner of ISO continues with the aim of totally defeating the CTG and other local terrorists. Our efforts have resulted in success with the significant reduction of their numbers and firearms and the clearing of areas where they used to maintain presence; and those countering their propaganda, and suppression of their financial and logistics support,” he added.
Centino said the AFP's success in ISO was highlighted by the fact that of the five NPA guerilla fronts known as active in 2022, only one is active as two were reported dismantled while the other two are weakened.
"With these, we have safeguarded the safety and welfare of our fellow citizens. Thanks to the tireless efforts, support and cooperation of government agencies and different sectors of society,” the AFP chief noted.
With significant gains in ISO, Centino said a shift to external security operations (ESO) is on the horizon as the AFP strengthens its security posture with the increased conduct of aerial and surface maritime patrols, employment of air surveillance radar systems, monitoring of sea lines of communications and redeployment of naval special operations units and the Philippine Marines Corps.
Also, he noted an increased capacity and capability and professionalism brought by the AFP modernization and transformation programs.
“We have improved our capabilities and our presence in strategic locations with the increase in the number of naval vessels and the effective presence of our maritime detachments in the Batanes group of islands and the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
“These are complemented by partnering with our ally and strategic partner armed forces from our global and regional allied countries that enables leveraging of capabilities through information sharing, subject matter expert exchange, and joint and combined maritime patrols. All of these are with the help of an interagency-wholistic effort through the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea," Centino said. (PNA)