The top military commander in Southern Mindanao is certain that the New People’s Army (NPA) forces operating in the region would be eliminated soon, as high-ranking officials have surrendered and are now actively aiding the government’s counter-insurgency efforts.
According to Maj. Gen Ernesto C. Torres Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry “Agila” Division (10ID), a focused military campaign combined with community support initiatives will mean defeat for the NPA in Mindanao.
Torres held a press conference inside Camp General Manuel T. Yan Sr. camp in Tuboran, Mawab, Davao De Oro, to honor 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), which coincided 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 stated that the 17 guerilla fronts in the Agila Division’s area had been reduced to just six in 2016.
The number of villages affected has decreased dramatically from 193 in 2016 to only 12 this year, while the number of firearms used by the NPA has decreased from 1,150 five years ago to only 300 now.
Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, the chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, who was also present at the ceremony, stated that they will neutralize the remaining members of terrorist organizations before President Rodrigo Duterte’s term ends.
“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 discussed the reasons for their surrender, the current state of the CPP-NPA-NDF, the relationship between the NPA and its legal fronts, exploitation of IP members at the Haran Center in Davao, and the impact of Executive Order (EO) 70 on CTG activities, among other matters.
In December 2018, President Duterte signed EO 70, establishing the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which takes a national strategy to ending communism and implementing peace-building efforts.
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 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 armed struggle since it causes a lot of casualties. We are giving our commitment to serve the public,” she said.
To maintain ongoing peace and development projects, Legazpi stated local and national lawmakers must work together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
According to Castillo, the core cause of insurgency is poverty, which must be addressed according to the NTF-ELCAC framework.
“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.”