Tuesday, July 26, 2016

AFP chief Visaya orders SOMO against NPA; pullout from lumad zones pressed

From InterAksyon (Jul 26): AFP chief Visaya orders SOMO against NPA; pullout from lumad zones pressed

AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya on Tuesday directed all unit commanders to enforce right away a suspension of military operations (SOMO) against the New People’s Army (NPA), following President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration Monday of a unilateral cease-fire. 

Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, unified commands, and Service Support Units are to implement a SOMO, said the Armed Forces chief.

The defense chief earlier urged the Left to respond accordingly to the gesture of peace and goodwill extended by President Duterte at his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).

In separate statements, however, the National Democratic Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines said they were awaiting operational details of the government's move, even as they welcomed Duterte's initiative.

Meanwhile, Visaya said there will be no pullout of troops in all areas where soldiers are urgently needed to deliver government social services to people, especially marginalized communities in far-flung areas.

Visaya said: “While there is a SOMO against the NPA, our troops will continue to support or provide forces for the Philippine National Police in law enforcement operations against lawless elements and criminal groups.”

It is also the AFP's mandate, he added, to protect communities from terrorism including economic sabotage against vital government facilities, infrastructure and projects.

Karapatan: pull out troops

The left-leaning Karapatan group hailed Duterte’s unilateral cease-fire but urged him to pull out soldiers and paramilitary groups from civilian communities.

Duterte had met with militant leaders at MalacaƱang after his SONA, and they took up, among others, the return of Lumad evacuees to their homelands.

“They (military troops) should be brought back to their barracks. That is the only way by which the Lumad evacuees can safely return to their homes. The declaration should also pave the way for the rescinding of Oplan Bayanihan, along with its deceptive Whole of Nation Initiative,” said Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay.

Palabay also urged Duterte to abandon the “US-driven counter-insurgency program that has resulted to numerous rights violations is a expression of a genuinely independent foreign policy.”

“The unilateral cease-fire declaration should also lead to the release of all political prisoners, via a general, omnibus and unconditional amnesty declaration,” Palabay said.

She also asked Duterte to stop extrajudicial killings, whether political or drug-related. On Monday, the PNP had reported that the number of people killed in the crackdown on illegal drugs was nearing the 300 mark.

“We call on President Duterte to strongly call for adherence to and live by the principle of one’s right to due process, most especially of those from the poor sectors.

Employment and livelihood programs are more comprehensive solutions which should be made available to all who may fall or have fallen prey to the drug trade having been pushed to do so by abject poverty. On the other hand, we support President Duterte’s campaign to arrest and prosecute high officials in the military, police and government agencies accountable for the drug menace,” Palabay said.

Prepping pullout from lumad sites

Major General Benjamin Madrigal, the 4th Infantry Division commander, meanwhile,  said ground commanders were ordered to prepare  to pull out their troops from operations in all areas, especially Lumad zones.

This, even as they await “guidelines from higher authorities regarding the mechanics of the ceasefire,” he said in a phone interview.

Madrigal said the military is ready to provide transportation for Lumad evacuees to return to their farms and homes, if ordered to do so.


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