Military forces in Bicol are looking at 2016 as another bright year for its anti-insurgency campaign that marked in 2015 a remarkable success leading to the formal declaration of four of the region’s six provinces as already peaceful and ready for further development.
The Philippine Army (PA) said that along with the entire security sector of the government, it would be putting more pressure to the remaining units of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Bicol so that within 2016 the region is cleared of insurgency and all its provinces declared as “conflict manageable and ready for further development” (CMRFD) areas.
A CMRFD area is where anti-insurgency efforts of the government are shifted from clearing of barangays from insurgent affectation supported by socio-economic development to a reverse role.
It is formalized through a signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a particular provincial government following a recommendation by the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) supported by a resolution passed by the provincial legislative board.
The PPOC recommendation is based on decreased violent activities of the NPA, the reduction of its potential support system in the barangays and its failed recovery efforts—meaning “the local NPA organizations have been reduced to a minimal level that they can no longer pose a serious threat to peace and order in the locality”.
It is a sad fact according to the military that the 45-year old insurgency being waged by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) has been preventing the progress and economic development of all affected localities in Bicol and in the country.
“We can now reverse the situation in CMRFD areas as the MOU emphasizes the implementation of more socio-economic and development projects to be implemented by the civil government with the continuous support and protection of the military,” said Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Quidilla, commanding general of the PA’s 9th Infantry (Spear) Division (ID) based in Pili, Camarines Sur.
The four Bicol provinces now under these declarations are Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, and Albay, leaving behind Sorsogon and
For Catanduanes, the MOU governing the province’s CMRFD declaration was signed in late December 2014; followed last January by Camarines Norte; then by Camarines Sur and Albay.
These MOUs, according to Quidilla bring great pleasure for it is a proof that efforts of the government and its armed forces to restore peace and tranquility in the provinces have not been put in vain.
At least these first four Bicol provinces are now provided with space where the people can feel safe and grow as progressive communities and Quidilla said the AFP wants this environment expanded down to Sorsogon and
The AFP has been maintaining the presence of the PA for about 16 years now in Bicol with its 9th ID manning the internal security of the region from the activities of the NPA.
This PA ID is in command of three infantry brigades composed of eight infantry battalions and seven support units, including an engineering battalion distributed in all the six provinces of the region.
In over 40 years, Bicol’s opportunity to advance to progress with its vast mineral deposits, agricultural lands, rich fishing grounds, exotic tourist destinations, rich natural resources and hard-working people has been stalled by unstable peace situation owing to the presence of the NPAs and the culture of violence it has developed among local communities.
They prevent the implementation of government infrastructure projects, harass mining companies, extort money in form of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, contractors and even from farmers, and execute those who refuse to remit including innocent civilians and civilian government officials.
Now, the strength of the rebels in the four provinces has been significantly reduced paving the way for the CMRFD declaration, Quidilla said.
In the case of Sorsogon, the PA’s 31st Infantry Battalion (IB) assigned in the province has said that each rebel unit presently operating within the so called “guerilla zones” has dwindled to only a handful of demoralized combatants not capable of any major anti-government operations.
According to 31st IB commander, Lt. Col. Beerjenson Aquino, the weakening and demoralization of the province’s NPA were rendered by massive military operations that resulted to the recent clearing of the remaining 13 barangays that served as the rebels’ last stand.
As an added punch to Sorsogon NPAs, their two most prominent leaders—Andres Hubilla and Felix Marcayda, Jr. recently fell into the hands of lawmen.
Aquino said that while there have been some incidents of harassment initiated recently by armed men believed to be NPA rebels against military installations in the province, those were just minor operations intended to show their presence in efforts to collect from candidates in the 2016 general elections “permit-to-campaign and permit-to-win” fees.
In fact, the PA commander said the AFP since lately has been preparing for the declaration of Sorsogon as the fifth of Bicol’s six provinces under the CMRFD area.
Various indicators are being considered in placing the province under this declaration and the most significant were the dramatic decrease in numbers of barangays affected or influenced by the NPA, actual number of armed insurgents and insurgency-related crime volume, Aquino said.
According to Quidilla, it is impressing that the security sector has been able to achieve significant gains in addressing the threat situation in the
Bicol is now on its way towards becoming a region of peace, progress, and prosperity with the island of Masbate as the remaining province classified as highly infested by the NPA—“a situation that we would by all means address in 2016,” he added.