NPA strength down to lowest level since '80s
Manila (PNA) (18 June) -- The strength of the communist New People's Army (NPA) has been reduced drastically by more than 30 percent since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the military to defeat the country's four-decade old insurgency problem three years ago.
Figures culled from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) indicated that at least 2,296 insurgents have been neutralized from 2006 up to May this year, bringing down the current rebels' strength to just about 4,874 from 7,170 in 2006.
The neutralization of the 2,296 rebels was by way of killing, surrender or capture, the military data indicated.
The current NPA strength is the lowest since the 1980s when the communist movement reached its peak strength of more than 24,000. Also, the number of communist guerrilla fronts is now down to 75 from 100 in 2006.
In 2006, amid the series of attacks that were launched by the insurgents in the countryside, President Arroyo directed the AFP to end the insurgency problem before her term ends in 2010.
Peace talks between the government and the communists bogged down in 2004 after the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) left the negotiating table to protest the inclusion of the NPA and its political wing -- the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) -- in the list of foreign terrorist organizations.
AFP deputy chief of staff for operations Maj. Gen. Carlos Holganza said AFP chief Gen. Victor Ibrado has ordered the pouring of more resources to the field to meet the deadline imposed by the President on the security agencies.
"General Ibrado ordered to prioritize support and focus resources on target goals and provide appropriate support to the field units to make sure they have what they need to finish the job," said Holganza.
Nevertheless, Holganza said the AFP chief also reminded the troops that they should be respecting the rights of the people while engaged in the anti-insurgency campaign.
"General Ibrado also reiterated previous policy guidelines to include respect for human rights and strict adherence to the principle of command responsibility," said Holganza.
He added that Ibrado is very confident that they can further reduce the strength of the NPA into an inconsequential level.
"The one who will win this war is the one who gets the support of the people; we have a task to perform, a deadline to meet and a challenge to surpass, we cannot postpone this opportunity to finish the insurgency problem any longer so that we can all move forward and give our fellow Filipinos the environment conducive to progress and prosperity," Holganza stressed.
Holganza said they are aiming to dismantle at least 54 guerrilla fronts during the rest of the year, an objective which, he added, is attainable. He noted that ground commanders are very optimistic on the attainment of the set goals.
The official also said the military is aiming to make certain adjustments to ensure that the mission to defeat the insurgency problem is met.
"Among the guidance which were put forward by the chief of staff is the synergy with the forces within the Team AFP, meaning to say we have a lot of forces which are not right now optimized for use in the ISO (internal security operations)," Holganza said.
"For example, our garisson duty personnel in the Navy, Air Force and Army, we will be making use of them. We will be making use of our allies in the Philippine National Police (PNP). We are going to work on the other stakeholders, knowing for a fact that insurgency is not a military problem alone," he added.
"We want to have a holistic approach to this; then we are going to enlist the help of our civilian stakeholders not just in the government but also in the private sector. We are doing a lot of creative work right now insofar as getting more and more people on board in our fight against insurgency," he said.
Despite the continuing downtrend of the NPA strength, Holganza said the military still considers the communist movement as the country's No. 1 security threat, above the Abu Sayyaf Group, the rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, among other threat groups.
"We still believe that the main threat really is still the communist terrorist movement because the threat that they pose is nationwide. So, that is still our focus up to now," he said.
Holganza said the military cannot actually reduce the NPA at a zero strength. He stressed that the military mission is to reduce them into a smallest group as possible that they will turn to be a mere police problem.
"We really cannot eradicate insurgency totally. Our task really is to reduce the insurgency to an inconsequential level. You know, where the are problems of poverty, and the like, there will always be cause for such unrest, for such (insurgency)," said Holganza.
"You really cannot totally eliminate that but what we can do is to reduce them, to reduce them to a level wherein they are no longer a national security concern. We want to decrease them to a level where they are simply what we can call threats to development, not threats to national security, meaning they will no longer be a big enough problem to really threaten our national patrimony," he added.
On the part of Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., he said he and President Arroyo are happy with the accomplishment of the military against the insurgents.
"No one is more satisfied than me and the President. They have done so much with so little. You go and ask every expert in the Armed Forces and they will tell how amazed they are how we are accomplishing our mission," said Teodoro.
The Defense chief noted that the military is scoring the feats against the rebels even as if they are addressing other threat groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the rogue MILF rebels and are also involved in disaster response and relief operations.
"We are attending four fronts -- the CPP/NPA, rogue MILF and the Abu Sayyaf and natural disasters and calamities. We are addressing these at the same time. The mere fact that the country's security situation is still stable, this is already a big accomplishment by our military and the police," said Teodoro.
He also said that he is in favor of resuming talks with the communists provided that the agenda will be the discussion on their surrender and nothing more.
"To me, let's see what are the things that would be discussed and if it's their surrender to government and laying down their arms, let's see the condition, I am not averse to the talks. But if we are going to be compelled to stop our efforts against criminality in the country, we can't agree to that," said Teodoro. (PNA) [top]