MANILA, Philippines—The military leadership on Friday relieved Maj. Gen. Nestor Anonuevo as head of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division based in Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro in the aftermath of the ambush by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona whose two bodyguards were killed.
Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya replaced Anonuevo as officer in charge of the 4th ID which has jurisdiction over the entire Northern Mindanao and part of the Caraga region.
In a phone interview, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, however, did not categorically say that Anonuevo was relieved but instead said there was a “reshuffling of players to change our approach” in dealing with the challenges in the field.
Asked if the decision to replace Anonuevo was a result of the ambush on Mayor Guingona, Bautista replied:
“Like in a basketball game, we change our strategy. We are looking for an approach that can be effective. It’s not necessarily just because of a single incident… Analyzing the ongoing situation, we need a different approach.”
Gingoog Mayor Guingona, 78, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP) and wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., suffered bullet wounds in the arms and feet. She was returning with a six-member escort from a town fiesta in Alatagan, Misamis Oriental, when they were ambushed by NPA rebels.
Gingoog City is in Misamis Oriental which is under the jurisdiction of the 4th ID.
Bautista said the decision to replace Anonuevo “went through a process.”
Asked where Anonuevo would be assigned next, Bautista said it would be up to the Army leadership.
Bautista and Anonuevo are both members of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1981.
According to Bautista, the ambush on Mayor Guingona by communist insurgents was a “wake up call” for everyone to fight and end the decades-long armed struggle waged by the NPA.
In an interview, Bautista also said that an armed struggle was a “Jurassic methodology, which nobody in these modern times believe in anymore.”
“It is a wake-up call for all of us that we need to end the armed struggle… It’s about time that we get together as a nation to finally put an end to violence and to the armed struggle. That is not the solution to our problems,” Bautista told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Bautista admitted he was upset over a photograph on the Inquirer’s front page on Wednesday showing supporters of the National Democratic Front (NDF) at a rally with a poster proclaiming that civil war is the answer to poverty (“Digmaan bayan sagot sa kahirapan”).
“Bayanihan and not civil war is my answer to that photograph because if there is civil war, then all the more we would be mired in poverty. That is the reality. More people will become poor because of war. Civil war is not the solution to our problems. The answer to our problems is for us to engage in Bayanihan. We should help each other,” Bautista said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Bautista noted that while communist insurgents claim to fight for the people, NPAs were harassing civilians even in poverty and calamity stricken areas.
“We should all work together because they are not only attacking our soldiers, even civilians are being ambushed. There are so many incidents already,” he said.
Bautista said that even before Guingona’s ambush, the NPA had owned up to the incident in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental last February where nine civilians where killed.