AFP intensifies visibility amid rebel attacks in Masbate

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2023 03:50 PM

MANILA -- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has intensified its presence in Masbate following a series of clashes between communist rebels and security forces in the province over the past week.

AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said the Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division has already coordinated with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to undertake measures to prevent communist rebels from committing further terrorist activities in the province.

“The situation there [Masbate] is improving kasi ‘yung ating (because our) 2IB under 9ID is closely coordinating with the PNP para sa (for) visibility patrols, at the same time, ito rin ay coordinated sa DepEd," Aguilar said during the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s online press briefing on Monday.

"We want to make sure na ang nangyari sa isang eskwelahan sa (that what happened in a school in) Placer will no longer happen,” he added.

“Rest assured na patuloy ang AFP na magtatrabaho at magpapatrol at magsasagawa ng operations(that the AFP will continue to work) to make sure our people will be safe from threats of violent extremism coming from the CPP-NPA,” he continued.

The Department of National Defense slammed the New People’s Army (NPA) on Friday for allegedly launching attacks near schools in Masbate, which terrified students and teachers and disrupted classes.

“The Department of National Defense vehemently condemns the recent series of violent acts perpetrated by the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) that inflicted injuries on our uniformed personnel and innocent civilians, especially children, in the towns of Placer and Kawayan in Masbate,” DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

He went on, “By committing atrocities such as the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near schools and in public areas, the CTG has placed our people in harm's way. Their utter lack of conscience truly shows that they are desperate in their vain efforts to project a false facade of relevance and strength.”

On March 20, personnel from the 22nd Infantry Battalion conducted a security operation in Barangay Villahermosa in Cawayan town after receiving a report that armed men were seen in the area. An encounter took place between the troops and communist rebels, killing one of the soldiers.

On March 22, another clash occurred in Barangay Locso-on in Placer town, injuring two soldiers. The clash disrupted a Women’s Month celebration at a nearby school, causing school officials to suspend classes.

The incident was also condemned by the Department of Education.

“As to the measures being undertaken by the AFP, of course, lahat ng ating units, lalo ang ground forces, are given the order to institute preventive measures in the event of such occurrences and clashes, ‘yung effect niya sa community,” said BGen Josel Alejandro Nacnac, acting director of the AFP Center for Law of Armed Conflict. 

“At our end dito sa AFPCLOAC, we have been telling and instructing the units to file appropriate cases under RA 9851 kasi isa ito sa violations. Halimbawa ang nangyari sa Masbate, nadisturb ang communities doon, which is not allowed by international law. Kasama iyan sa violations na pwedeng isampa against the NPA for disturbing the community.”

He went on, “Itong klaseng aktibidad ng NPA na nadidisrupt ang mga klase ng mga kabataan at may nadadamay pang kabataan sa larangan ng kanilang pakikibaka ay hindi na bago… [NPA] That is a specific violation of our laws kasi they are carrying unlicensed firearms. The mere fact na may hawak kang baril sa publiko ay violation na po iyon. Wala namang lisensya ang baril na iyan. Nagiging threat sa community, lalo na sa mga kabataan.”

AFP: NPA guerrilla fronts down to 21 from 89 in 2016*

Guerrilla fronts of the New People’s Army have been reduced to 21, down from 89 in 2016, Aguilar said.

The AFP spokesperson noted that of the 21 remaining guerrilla fronts, only 3 are active while 18 have weakened significantly.

“For calendar year 2023 alone, we have neutralized around 189 CPP-NPA members, 26 of which were killed, 22 were apprehended and 141 surrendered," he said.

He added, "606 supporters also withdrew their support from the different mass organizations established by the CPP and we have recovered more or less 206 firearms. This brings to a total of 67 guerrilla fronts dismantled. About 3 this year. That is from a total of 89 since 2016,” Aguilar said during the online press briefing.

There are only around 1,800 communist rebels holding arms, Aguilar added.

“With only 21 guerrilla fronts remaining, the strength of the CPP is reduced to more or less 2,000, with 1,817 firearms operating in 409 remaining conflict-affected areas, mostly in Negros and Samar provinces.”

Aguilar said the remaining guerrilla fronts are expected to be dismantled within a short period of time, adding that communist rebels are losing relevance due to the continuous decrease of their forces.

“Sa lalong madaling panahon, kung kaya nating tunawin lahat ng guerrilla fronts at mapabalik sa gobyerno ang mga kapatid nating nawawala sa landas (As soon as possible. if we can dissolve all guerilla fronts), I think this is the best scenario we can think of. We hope we are able to do this in the earliest time possible for the benefit of our people. We cannot give a timeline because depende rin iyan sa (that also depends on) developments on the ground,” he noted.

“The AFP, in coordination with other government agencies under the NTF-ELCAC, will continue to exert pressure… to end violent extremism and look closely into the root causes of the problem,” he concluded.