he year 2020, although marred by coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, was a fruitful year for the Army’s 102nd Infantry “Igsoon” Brigade in its anti-insurgency campaign.
This, as the Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC) convergence dismantled five terrorist cells of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) while 109 NPA combatants yielded in 2020 in Zamboanga Peninsula, according to Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas, commander of the 102nd Infantry Brigade.
Nicolas said the continued whole-of-nation effort, through the various levels of TF-ELCAC in Region 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula) and Misamis Occidental resulted to the dismantling of Guerilla Front–JOJI in some parts Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga del Sur provinces; Guerilla Front–13 in parts of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte; Guerilla Front–Feliciano “A” in parts of Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay; and two of its Regional Operations Command units, namely, HQ KALAW and the Main Regional Guerrilla Unit (MRGU).
Nicolas said his command, through its maneuver battalions and in close coordination, collaboration, and cooperation with other security forces under the Peace, Law Enforcement and Development Support (PLEDS) Clusters, recorded 36 skirmishes against various armed groups of the WMRPC, which resulted to eight killed, four captured and five arrested NPA combatants.
The military official said the different skirmishes, series of surrender of firearms, and revelation of armed caches resulted in the recovery of 108 firearms–88 high-powered and 20 low-powered–that reduced the armed capability of the WMRPC in 2020.
“These accomplishments significantly weakened the threat of the WMRPC against the peace-loving people of Zamboanga Peninsula and slowly allowing the different government units, agencies and stakeholders the unhampered implementation of developmental programs, projects and activities in previously NPA-influenced communities,” he said.
He said the WMRPC’s manpower and firepower capability have been reduced in half from 4th quarter 2019 to 4th quarter 2020, from 192 to 84 for active armed members and 168 to 78 firearms remaining based on the monitoring of the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Coordinating Council.
“We are now focusing our efforts on the remaining two guerrilla fronts of the WMRPC, which are Guerrilla Front–BBC in Zamboanga del Norte and Guerrilla Front–SENDONG in Misamis Occidental,” Nicolas added.
It is assessed that the NPA’s WMRPC existence in Zamboanga Peninsula is about to come to an end.
Former NPA cadres and rebels are expecting that WMRPC will become non-existing and irrelevant as it is now losing the support of the masses and the propaganda.
“We have seen the transformation of the government from what it is before we have joined the ranks of the New People’s Army to what it has become today,” the Igsoon Brigade quoted alias Ka Peewee, a former HQ Kalaw commander, as saying.
Peewee, whose identity was withheld for security reasons, surrendered on August 6 along with his wife, Ka Ritchie, after he was wounded in a clash in Barangay Tinuyop, Leon Postigo, Zamboanga del Norte. Ka Ritchie is a regional medical staff of the NPA.
Lt. Col. Manaros Boransing, 97th Infantry Battalion (IB) commander, said the couple decided to surrender after their comrades abandoned them at the height of the clash.
“In my 18 years in the communist group, it is only now that me and my former comrades witnessed the sincerity and commitment of the government in addressing the issues in our communities,” Peewee added.
Nicolas said that for the year, 33 NPA surrenderers have received their Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) benefits such as immediate cash assistance and livelihood assistance amounting to PHP15,000 and PHP 50,000, respectively.
Nicolas said they will also receive a monetary value of the firearms they yielded as part of the Firearm Remuneration Program under E-CLIP.
He said the papers of the other NPA surrenderers are still being processed for the availability of funds.
Meanwhile, the province of Zamboanga Sibugay was declared as insurgency-free and development-ready during the year-end Joint Provincial Peace and Order Council-Development Council-Anti-Drug Abuse Council meeting held on December 22, 2020.
Nicolas told the Philippine News Agency over the phone Thursday that they are also expecting to declare the province of Zamboanga del Sur as insurgency-free and development-ready by the first quarter of this year.
“The road may be rough but government officials, former rebels, and the people of Zamboanga Peninsula are optimistic in the collective agenda and goal of putting an end to the local communist armed conflict and the eventual declaration of the entire region as insurgency-free,” Nicolas said. (PNA)