New People’s Army (NPA) have been sowing carnage in the highlands for nearly five decades, and it is yet unclear whether the fight, which divides Filipinos, will end.
Life has been the compensation for the ideology they are trying to teach in the minds of Filipinos who have been overlooked by the government in the midst of these confrontations. And the never-ending war is rooted in the fact that justice are allegedly denied to the majority.
Aside from the presence of terrorist bandits in the Zamboanga Peninsula, everyone is unaware of the ongoing violence perpetrated by the NPA in the area.
The 1st Infantry Tabak Division and 102nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army include the 53rd Infantry Batallion which is primarily focused on dismantling various guerrilla fronts in Zamboanga del Sur.
According to Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, the 53IB’s Battalion Commander, the NPA has been utilizing the territory for decades, which has led to the terrorists developing multiple guerrilla units in the area.
“Yung NPA napakabilis yung recruitment nila using the socio-economic issues. Dagdagan pa ng propaganda at disinformation campaign ng NPA. So madaling na-entice yung mga tao,” said Lt. Col. Herrera.
The Front Committee Kara of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) was the major guerilla unit operating in Zamboanga del Sur’s countryside. And, as a result of the movement’s strong draw, a slew of atrocities have been recorded in the region’s history.
One of these was their 2012 assault on the town of Tigbao, where they viciously disarmed police officers at their station. The kidnapping of a police officer, who was used as a human shield during their escape, was also part of this atrocity. In every part of the area, left and right, there are multiple gunfights that are occuring. In addition, there have been a number of instances of extortion.
But more than the exchange of fierce ammunition, the military is aware that this is not the direct answer to suppressing the rebellion in the province.
“Collective yung pag-address nung problema. At the same time yung problem kasi is multi-layer din. That’s why we are engaging the community,” added Lt. Col. Herrera.
With the help of Executive Order No. 70 of the current administration, the insurgency problem in the country has been gradually alleviated. At the same time, the military has stepped up its surveillance of NPA entrances and exit points in the highlands. Although some NPA guerrilla fronts were successfully dismantled, the remaining members of the movement regrouped to sow chaos again.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines 1st Tabak Division has been fighting the NPA in the province of Zamboanga del Sur for many years. They demonstrated their tenacity and bravery. Many soldiers have also made the ultimate sacrifice. To this day they still continue their mission to suppress the government’s adversary.
Ordinary folks played a significant role in the disbandment of various NPA insurgent formations across Zamboanga del Sur. From his time as the spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi in 2017, this is one of Lt. Col. Herrera’s pocket strategies in his leadership of the entire 53IB force.
“Ang focus ko don yung information operations , civil-military operations, and yung engagements sa mga communities, saka mga leaders. So habang nagkakaroon ng bakbakan sa main battle area, ang focus ko naman is handling humanitarian issues,” he said.
According to him, the cooperation of the community is very important to prevent clashes in the countryside.
“Yung lesson na nakuha natin sa Marawi ay importante pala yung stakeholder engagement. Kasi nanalo tayo sa Marawi not purely combat. And even the support of the people. Bilang commander kinuha ko itong lessons na to… That’s why we are engaging the community,” he added.
“Naniniwala ako yung bigger picture kasi na sila ay biktima rin ng maling ideology kasi before, sabi ko nga, itong mga tao na to, they were looking for way out from poverty, injustices. They are all victim of deceptions and maling ideology. Yun yung pananaw ko bakit ganon kalaki yung opportunity sa akin. O kalaban to, bakit di pa pinatay. Give him the chance,” he further said.
At present, the peace enjoyed by the Zamboanga Peninsula is proof of the good results of the government’s program in the region. But the military clarified that although the forces of the red movements in the region are weak, they should not be complacent and should not underestimate the ability of the terrorist group to revolt again.
Former members of the NPA who are now under the custody and protection of the 53IB are living proof of the military’s and government’s sincerity in assisting individuals who have gone astray. They are now undergoing a rehabilitation program called Project Good Life, for them to rebuild their lives and return to their communities.
Project Good Life aims to give a fresh start to former members of terrorist groups by providing a healthy school-like environment. The program’s facilitators are aware of the importance of having a better and more humane identity, which is why part of Project Good Life’s goal is to give a new identity to former members of the organization.
The armed forces also clarified that the country’s problem of insurgency is not only a problem of their ranks that needs a military solution, but it is a political problem that requires the participation of all branches of government and even civilians.
There is still no certainty that the rebel-government confrontation will be resolved. However, it is the unwavering pursuit of the causes of poverty and social injustice that provides hope for freedom and peace. These are just a few of the stories of armies that reflect the new heroes of society who will be role models for future generations. And forge the dream of more free and unified Filipinos in the future.
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