Army justifies presence in Andap
by Noel B. Najarro
Butuan City (19 October) -- The military hierarchy in the region justified their presence in Andap Complex, in Surigao del Sur, even as they belie reports that they were there to protect some business interests – primarily mining investments – at the expense of residents, especially the indigenous tribes that live in the areas affected by these investments.
A press conference was held recently at the Advance Command Post of the 401st Brigade, Philippine Army, Camp Bancasi, this city; attended by Colonel Ephraim Oropel, Post Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Erwin Lamzon, Commanding Officer, 58th Infantry Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Pedralvez, Commanding Officer 23rd Infantry Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Gammad, Commanding Officer 36th Infantry Battalion, Major Michelle Anayron, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division and Mr. Abner Caga, Regional Director of the Philippine Information Agency-Caraga, to shed light on the issue.
In a press statement read by Lt. Col. Lamzon during the forum attended by the local media practitioners, it mentioned that on the recent months, the national and local media as well as the internet have been flooded with news, stories and political statements regarding the so called militarization in the Andap Complex. The stories, according to their press statement, charged that the presence of the military forced local communities of indigenous people to evacuate to safer grounds owing to the human rights violations and other atrocities perpetrated accordingly by soldiers coming from the 36th and the 58th IBs of the 4ID Philippine Army.
Accordingly, the articles seem to point out that the presence and operations of the army at the said complex were intended to harass people towards forcing them to support and allow mining in their communities. Some of the articles, according to their press statement, even alleged that the recruitment of local residents to become "Bagani Warriors" is still attributed to the purpose of enforcing the operation of mining projects in the Andap.
The Army's statement pointed out that the accusation hurled against them were all baseless, as their continued presence in the vicinity, as "within the complex are guerilla bases of the CPP-NPA." They said that with or without mining applications and explorations the Army's presence in Andap as CPP-NPA has been proven to be operating within and from the different strategic locations within the complex. NPAs they said, used the area as base of operation as well as staging ground for tactical offensives.
Accordingly, the four guerilla fronts of the CPP-NPA, are operating in the province of Suigao del Sur; Fronts 19A, 19B, 14 and 30. Two guerilla fronts; Front 19A and 19B made use of Andap Complex for their different activities, including military actions meant to harass civilians and government troopers.
The army claimed that as early as the 80's several encounters between the government troops and NPAs occurred at Andap Valley Complex, including that raid which led to the death of Fr. Frank Navarro, alias a.k.a. Ka Migo.
Lamzon added that there were no mining operations yet in the area. Records from the GMB, he said will show that all are still applications for explorations, so there are no mining operations which needed the army's protections.
Lt. Col. Gammad pointed out that for the area like Andap Complex which is being made a guerilla base by the CPP-NPA, the army has the mandate to ensure the security of the state and promote social order that is conducive to development and progress. The army is now employing the so called "constructive and developmentalist approach." Now, he said, they are pushing forward their "Kalayaan sa Barangay Project" (KBP) which will pave farm-to-market roads, install electricity, put up water system project, build two classroom school buildings or health center to a place (whether a Sitio or a Barangay) depending on their identified and prioritized need. The program allocates P5 Million peso budget for each place.
For his part, Lt. Col. Pedralvez said that the tactics employed by the CPP-NPA is not new. The last 40 years he said will show that the communists are capable of fabricating issues to dramatize their agenda.
Like the recent "Taktikang Bakwit" which they employed to dramatize the so-called impact of the military presence, when they mobilize the indigenous people from Andap complex in the form of evacuation "even if there was no raging firefight in the area and not even a single shot was heard," he said.
According to him, that they now had exploited the issue of mining to mobilize supports from various groups and organizations, including environmentalists, towards campaigning against the entry of the Philippine Army into the Andap complex. (PNN) [top]