The military yesterday said it considered the remaining New People’s Army rebels in Negros and Panay a “disorganized and spent force” that has dispersed into small groups, for survival purposes.
As the deadline set by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for them to reduce the NPA into an inconsequential level in Western Visayas lapsed yesterday, regional military spokesman Capt. Mark Andrew Posadas said the 3rd Infantry Division has effectively addressed the challenges posed by the rebel group, by drastically degrading their capabilities to affect the peace and development in the region.
From 10 active NPA guerilla fronts in 2006, Posadas said it has now been reduced to four “degraded fronts”, with only 70 out of the 162 insurgency-affected barangays, yet to be cleared.
There are 4,741 barangays in Negros and Panay island, where 3rd ID infantry units have been stationed.
Despite the continued recruitment by the NPA, Posadas said the number of its active members had reduced from 745 in 2006 to 486, posting a decrease by 35 percent in their overall strength in the last four years.
Even if they (NPA) occasionally conduct raids on what he calls “soft targets” such as haciendas and mining company guard posts to acquire more firearms, he said the 3rd ID has managed to reduce the number of rebel firearms from 392 to 294.
Priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez said to be the secretary of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros, however, disputed claims of military victory, saying the 3rd ID failed to crush the revolutionary movement in Negros.
In a statement he issued, Fernandez claimed that out of the 3ID desperation the military resorted to “physical elimination phase”, by killing members of progressive groups and further claimed that the number of victims of extra-judicial killings had reached 36 in Negros alone.
While admitting that the remaining rebels are still capable of launching terroristic activities, Posadas said they cannot afford to overthrow government functions at the local level.
Military records also showed that 18 leaders of the revolutionary movement in the region were neutralized, either through their arrest or from being killed in gunbattles.
Posadas, citing testimonies of former rebels, said the apparent exodus and attrition within the Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros and Panay were triggered by what he calls continued “financial and sexual opportunism” within their own ranks that also greatly contributed to the demoralization of their members.
Military records also showed that 153 ex-rebels in the region have availed of the Social Integration Program for rebel returnees.
A total of 240 Kalayaan sa Barangay Projects were undertaken by the Army engineers in selected rural barangays of Region 6, which essentially spurred new developments, 86 of which were completed in Negros island.
As their Internal Security Operations deadline lapsed, Posadas claimed they have been successful in reducing the capabilities of rebels, making their goal of regional stability more attainable, and cited what he called the “unhampered delivery of basic services and the flourishing tourism industry.”
Despite the gains, Maj. Gen. Vicente Porto, 3rd ID commanding general, said “We will continue to perform our internal security function, with focus in areas where they remain persistently active”.
“We are optimistic that the remaining insurgents will be neutralized as long as 3ID maintains its professionalism and commitment to our mission,” Porto also said.*GPB