Year in review
DAVAO CITY – On the eve of the anniversary of the New People’s Army (NPA) March last year, then Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista claimed that the guerrillas would become irrelevant following the arrest of its alleged leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria.
The forecast remains to be seen as NPA tactical offensives against foreign-owned businesses and battling it out with increasing AFP deployment continue to make headlines, especially in Mindanao.
In separate areas, and in the beginning and ending of last year, the NPAs raided two packing plants of the Japanese-owned Sumitomo Fruits in Barobo, Valencia, Bukidnon, and in New Corella town, Davao del Norte. In January, the NPA burned P11-million worth of equipment, while in December, the NPAs disarmed company guards and captured as Prisoners of War two soldiers belonging to the 60th Infantry Battalion.
Both incidents were considered “punitive actions” by the NPA for the “company’s expansion and disruption of livelihood for local residents”, as well as the firm’s “exploitative” treatment of its farm and plant workers.
The NPA on April 7 and 10 also attacked two mining foreign firms in Compostela Valley– the American-owned St. Augustine Gold and Copper Limited in Pantukan town and the Malaysian-owned Apex Mining Corporation in Maco town.
For allegedly failing to rehabilitate Typhoon Pablo victims and for rapidly expanding its “destructive” largescale mining operations, the firms’ multi-million worth of equipment including trucks, mixers, loaders pick-up vehicles, and portable drills were destroyed by the NPAs.
Armed mayors targetted
The NPAs raided the house of Carmen mayor Monching Calo and confiscated five of his firearms. The mayor was not present during the raid.
They also raided the house of Mayor Jimmy Joyce of Jose Abad Santos town in Davao Occidental and seized several firearms.
The NPAs were also responsible last July for the killing of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon Mayor Mario Okinlay to whom they accused as being a “land grabber” and ruled as a “local tyrant” against indigenous Higanon farmers.
Mayor John Roby Otero of Sta. Josefa, Agusan del Sur was also the subject of an NPA raid last August.
The NPAs attacked Matanao Municipal police headquarters, killing 10 police and military troops and confiscating several firearms.
Three days after the killing of the local mayor, six government troops were killed and six others were wounded in an ambush of soldiers of the 84th Infantry Battalion in Baracatan, Toril Davao City.
In a statement, Isabel Fermiza, spokesperson of the Mt. Apo Subregional Command of the NPA, said the NPA’s offensives “disproved hallucinations of AFP’s 10th Infantry Division commanding-general Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo” that the NPA forces are “thinning out, losing ground, and limited to merely seven towns in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley provinces.”
She said the ambush also “refuted the AFP claim” that Toril and the nearby town of Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur is “NPA free” because of the AFP’s Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP) and that the “claims of accomplishment are merely to justify the huge and heavily purloined AFP budget and the funds funneled from mining and capitalists that finance the ongoing massive military operations in Southern Mindanao.”
Several firefights also broke-out involving NPA and AFP units which have both set-up their own checkpoints and have standby forces in the Agusan del Sur towns of Prosperidad and Bayugan and Agusan del Norte towns of Kitcharao and Alegria.
Prisoners of War
Aside from launching offensive attacks, the NPAs have also taken a number of prisoners-of-war (POWs) in the region.
On April 4, the NPA Comval-North Davao South Agusan Sub-regional Command has captured Sgt. Jeric Curay of the Army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion in a checkpoint in New Bataan, Compostela Valley. Curay was released 19 days later amid repeated requests from the soldier’s wife, religious groups and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
One month after, the same NPA command captured Corporal Rogelio Rosales of the 60th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company while arranging transportation for illegal logs in Barangay Florida, Kapalong town. He was released 16 days later.
Four Manila-based aerial surveyors were also held by the New People’s Army for conducting drone surveillance in guerrilla base Maco, Compostela Valley seemingly for mining purposes in May last year.
The surveyors and one driver were released to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte but were warned by the NPA to refrain from conducting intelligence surveillance in guerrilla base areas.
On August 22, two military soldiers – Pfc. Marnel Tagalugon Cinches and Pfc. Jerrel Hapay Yorong of the 8th Infantry Battalion were also held captive by the NPAs in Bukidnon. After four months, the two soldiers were released during the 46th anniversary celebration of the CPP.
The latest captive of the NPA is the jail warden of Compostela Valley provincial jail who heads the Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center in Tagum City. The NPA arrested Warden Jose Mervin Coquilla for his alleged involvement with illegal drugs trade, corruption, and negligence.
The NPAs also made headlines when it made several apologies and promised appropriate indemnification after some of its attacks hurt civilians.
In March, it apologized for blasting its command detonated explosive against a convoy of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Red Cross in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. Five emergency responders were hurt and were later given indemnification by the NPA.
While grieving for losing 14 of its combatants following its simultaneous attacks against three private armies and warlords in Agusan del Sur last July, the NDF expressed regret over the lone civilian casualty of the incident.
The NPAs apologized when they ambushed an ambulance carrying soldiers and paramilitary troops last November 30, killing four civilians and wounding two others in Rosario, Agusan del Sur. They were targetting a village chairman notorious for protecting illegal logging and using paramilitary forces for landgrabbing.
On March 11, nine men were arrested in Matanao, Davao del Sur after their alleged participation of the NPA raid in the Davao del Sur Police Station.
Saying that the nine were ordinary farmers, not NPA combatants, wives of the arrested farmers– Renante Urot, Joey Alberca, Rufoboy Gama, Laudemer Gama, Noel Morangit, Roger Natonton, Julio Sales, John Rey Pabillo and Christopher Sales—called for their immediate release.
Another civilian, a 16-year old minor was presented to media as a “child soldier, informer and collector” for the New People’s Army by the military.
The Philippine Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion Commanding Officer Nilo Vinluan declared in news reports that Balong wandered off from the NPA area and “surrendered” to a police station in Barangay Mateo, Kidapawan City.
A farmer and his son were also mistaken as NPA rebels and were killed by soldiers belonging to the 66th IB last October 12 in Tubod, Manurigao, New Bataan.
Rolando Dagansan, 43, and his son Juda, 15 were on their way home to Taytayan, Barangay Andap, New Bataan from their farm located in Sitio Cabetian, Manurigao when they encountered the troops.
In Paquibato District, Davao City a village chief condemns the military’s alleged use of surrenderee certificates that would portray civilians as NPA surrenderees.
Celso Bughao, the village chief of Barangay Lumiad, Paquibato District, Davao City appeared before the regular session of the City Council on March 25 saying that the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army was responsible in distributing the documents.
On September 25, a month after he assumed his post as the commander of the 10th Infantry Division, Major General Eduardo M. Año announced that he would concentrate his division to crushing the communist movement in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley.
Año who succeeded Major General Ariel Bernardo last July 25, said that he will continue with the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan campaign in the communities of his area of responsibility.
But during their 46th founding anniversary in December, NDF Mindanao spokesman Ka Oris said that NPA is “expanding and gaining strength.”
He said the NPA in Mindanao has “maintained 46 guerrilla fronts amidst 55 Infantry (Philippine Army) battalions waging anti-guerrilla warfare” against them.
“Not one front was destroyed while the NPA launched 300 tactical offensive which inflicted one battalion of casualties of regular and paramilitary troops of the AFP this year,” he said.
The CPP has recently celebrated its 46th founding anniversary in Mindanao by hosting a peace consultation with various sectors attended by tens of thousands somewhere in Surigao del Sur.
As NPA claims to have sustained its guerrilla warfare, the Philippine government declared a month-long ceasefire. For its part, the CPP declared 10 separate days of ceasefire.
NDF’s Ka Oris said that the government’s declaration of ceasefire was “ineffective” saying that the military has not left their operations in civilian communities.
Ka Simon Santiago, Political Director of the NPA Southern Mindanao Region command issued a similar statement condemning the AFP’s ceasefire violations.
Santiago said the continued operation of “Special Operations Team or peace and development teams violates and makes a mockery” of the government’s own ceasefire.
Their military’s occupation of civilian areas, according to Santiago, “is highly provocative and increases the risk of armed engagements with the Red fighters amid civilian-populated areas.”
The military justified their presence saying that their peace and development program “are community works promoting Bayanihan spirit through various activities in the community in order to facilitate development in the barangays and per SOMO guidelines Bayanihan Team Activities and other civic action program are not included in the prohibition.”
Government peace panel also scored the NPA for killing soldiers and continuing its operations during the duration of the ceasefire.(davaotoday.com