Forty-three guerrilla fronts of the New People's Army remain active in various parts of the country, the head of the Philippine military said Monday, or seven months before President Rodrigo Duterte ends his term during which officials said the 52-year-old communist insurgency should already be wiped out.
"Malaki na ang nabawas natin sa mga threats. And we are glad to report that out of the remaining guerrilla fronts, iilan na lang ang natitira. In fact, this year, we have dismantled 20 guerrilla fronts. So, 43 ang natitira, mayroong 11 na for dismantling," Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Andres Centino said.
(We have decreased threats by a lot. And we are glad to report that few guerrilla fronts remain. In fact, this year, we have dismantled 20 guerrilla fronts. So, 43 are left, and there are 11 for dismantling.)
Centino said the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has allowed the military to focus on addressing armed insurgency.
Before getting help from other agencies through the task force, Centino said, "Our soldiers, our policemen served also as doctors, dentists, as engineers, even teachers... more than our core function of war fighting."
The police and military are "now focused in going after the armed group and this set-up has increased our successes," Centino said in a televised public briefing.
Ending communist insurgency in the Philippines will be one of Duterte's legacies when he steps down from power on June 30 next year, his ally Sen. Roland "Bato" Dela Rosa said earlier this month when he defended the P229.6-billion proposed budget for the defense department.
The communist insurgency movement in the country was established in 1969 and continues to be an internal security concern of the government, with its armed fighters attacking police stations, military outposts, other government facilities, and private companies.
The NPA strength reached more than 20,000 in the 1980s. While the number has dwindled over the years, various administrations failed to realize their pronounced goals of crushing the armed movement. The military currently estimates the number of armed communist rebels at 3,500.
Peace talks between the group and the government have been on and off, with Duterte finally terminating the negotiations in 2019.
"At the rate we are going, ‘di malayo na ma-comply talaga natin ang inutos ng ating Presidente, especially now that we have the time, the resources, the focus, and the personnel to perform this task," Centino said of the mandate to end insurgency.
(At this rate we are going, it is not far off for us to comply with what the President ordered.)
"By doing that, we will also be ensuring that in the coming months nearing election, we will have a situation where we’re capable to facilitate the conduct of a safe, secure, fair elections," he added.
According to the NTF-ELCAC, 5,262 NPA fighters have surrendered since Duterte came to power.
Defense Undersecretary Reynaldo Mapagu, who chairs the government's Task Force Balik Loob, said in an NTF-ELCAC statement that 623 former rebels joined the AFP, with 66 enlisted in the regular force and the remaining 557 as members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit.
The NTF-ELCAC earlier faced calls to be scrapped, following its red-tagging of female celebrities, some lawmakers, and Senate workers, among others.
The task force has completed only 1 percent of barangay development projects meant to curb insurgency, the interior department said two weeks ago.