CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) is shifting its operations from internal security to territorial defense in 2014, focusing on the Luzon coastlines amid disputes over marine boundaries in Southeast Asia, the new Nolcom chief said on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. revealed the new thrust two weeks after he assumed leadership of the AFP command, which operates in the Ilocos, Cagayan, Cordillera and Central Luzon regions.
Nolcom has jurisdiction over the Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal in Zambales, which is being claimed by China. President Aquino has publicly stated that his administration would give the United States and Japan wider access to Philippine bases to protect the country’s territory.
Also in Nolcom’s area of concern is the gas and mineral-rich Benham Rise off northeastern Luzon.
Nolcom oversees the 5th and 7th Infantry Divisions of the Philippine Army, 1st Air Division of the Philippine Air Force and the Naval Forces Northern Luzon of the Philippine Navy.
Replying to questions the Inquirer sent to him by e-mail, Catapang said he would begin to “integrate the capability of major services operationally controlled by Nolcom in conducting joint operations so that we can transition from internal security operations to territorial defense.”
He said the responsiveness of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is adjusting to a “very globalized world [where] the threats to our national security will likewise be global.”
“Of course, we have to protect our 7,100 plus islands against global threats such as terrorism, climate change, international crimes and maritime security, plus protect our interest in exclusive economic zones,” he said.
By the end of 2013, Nolcom should have declared the four regions “peaceful and ready for further development,” he said.
As of June, Nolcom had assessed the insurgency in the four regions as having been “reduced to a very minimal level,” which would allow it to shift priorities next year, Catapang said.
He said remnants of the New People’s Army (NPA) that killed nine policemen in two recent ambushes in Luzon are being hunted down.
He described as “desperate moves” the rebel attacks on policemen on May 27 in Cagayan where eight policemen were killed, and on July 28 in Tadian, Mt. Province, where a policeman was killed among more than 90 officers who were jogging in the mountains.
“In the absence of a clear headway toward a negotiated peace settlement between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA remnants will [fight] to survive,” Catapang said.
He said the attacks were meant “to highlight that there are still NPA remnants and spoilers that can sow fear in the area.”
The police would take the lead role in internal security operations, with the AFP providing support role, he said.
“We will not give up our core competency in fighting the remnants of the NPA to maintain our skills for guerrilla warfare,” he said, clarifying that the Scout Rangers and Special Forces would focus on military operations. “This will free our infantry battalions to train for territorial defense,” he said.