AFP data shows NPA strength hasn’t waned

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Philippines Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—About two-and-a-half years after the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched “IPSP Bayanihan,” the counter-insurgency drive has failed to significantly dent the communist rebels numerical strength, data presented by the military chief Thursday showed.

The military said there were 4,384 New People’s Army guerrillas when the anti-insurgency campaign was launched on January 1, 2011. Today, AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista said there are still “a little over 4,000″ rebels, or a decline of only about nine percent.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a Maoist rebellion for 44 years now and more than 30,000 people have died in the conflict.

At its peak in the late 1980s, the guerilla strength was estimated to be more than 26,000.

In a press briefing after the command conference on the mid-year assessment of internal security operations at Camp Aguinaldo, Bautista attributed the seemingly paltry impact  of the drive to the communist rebels recruitment that outpaced the number of surrenderees.

“We have significant number of surrenderees from ranks of the NPA…there have been continuous recruitment and it’s unfortunate the recruits they’re getting are from the youth from farmers, indigenous people,” he said.

Bautista was one of the proponents of the “IPSP Bayanihan,” the military’s blueprint to achieve peace. It involves the participation of stakeholders and a “greater emphasis on non-combat dimension” to end rebellion. The drive aims to make insurgency insignificant by 2016.

“The campaign remains on track—the Bayanihan timeline by 2016. We will win the peace and if you join us win the peace, all of our people join us win the peace, we can achieve that earlier. It’s for all of us.  It’s for our people,” Bautista said.

The government’s Internal Peace and Security Plan  or “IPSP Bayanihan” is geared towards “winning the peace and not just defeating the enemy.”

The government has been holding on-and-off peace talks with the insurgents since the mid-1980s but the negotiations have frequently stalled over rebel conditions like their demand that jailed comrades be freed.

In recent weeks, the communist rebels have stepped up large-scale attacks.

“What we have realized after six months of this year, on the peace overtures of the government, the [NPAs] responded with violence and it is sad that many of these were directed on civilian and non military targets, in fact there is increase in NPA human rights violations,” Bautista said.

The military also claimed that the NPA guerillas were also able to squeeze P200 million in campaign fees from politicians during the last mid-term elections.

For the first half of the year, Bautista said the military has “neutralized” 323 insurgents, most of them surrendered to the government.

“But as I said these are not our criteria now for measuring our performance.  For example we are looking at the peaceful condition in the different localities,” he said.

He said that Eastern Mindanao remains a communist hotspot and the region will be a “focus area”  of the “Bayanihan” drive.

“Remember we’re doing that as we also undertake [rehabilitation] efforts in Pablo-affected areas. That’s the sad part of it because there is heightened violence in those calamity areas,” Bautista said.

When asked if there were any snags in the implementation of the counter-insurgency drive, Bautista stressed the need to engage more stakeholders, adding that “strategies are dynamic.”

“We will intensify efforts in second semester to sustain the campaign to win peace for people,” the military chief said.

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