NPA stepping up attacks to regain lost strongholds in northern MindanaoBy Bobby Lagsa, and Eldie Aguirre
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — The New People’s Army is attempting to retake Sitio (sub-village) Lantad, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, as can be seen in its Sunday’s attack on a military detachment there, according to the Philippine Army.
Four government troops were killed in the attack, the military said.
Captain Christian Uy, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said the rebels struck because they also “wanted to disrupt the Army’s operational gains that gained public support.”
Aside from killing four government troops, the rebels also injured three others during an attack on a patrol base in the same sitio, a part of the Kibanban village. Lantad is about 15 kilometers uphill from the national highway of Balingasag.
At the height of the communist insurgency, Lantad served as one of the NPA’s strongholds in northern Mindanao and fell under the command of the NPA’s Front 4B.
It was considered by the military as no man’s land for years but in the 1990s, the NPA was pushed out of the area.
In 2010, the road to Lantad was finally made accessible to the public and subsequently, government services were delivered to its residents, many of whom were either rebels or NPA supporters.
With the road opened, the rebels yielded en masse and started tending their farms and planted peanuts, coffee and bananas.
They also banded and formed the Lantad Multipurpose Cooperative and put up a peanut processing plant through the help of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform.
Some 150 houses were also given electricity through a government-sponsored solar power system. A water system had been put up as well.
“This incident will not hinder government forces from protecting communities from the NPA atrocities,” Uy said.
He said the Lantad incident was only one of the NPA’s recent efforts at regaining lost territories.
Uy said this month alone, the NPA already launched six attacks on soldiers securing former rebel strongholds in Northern Mindanao.
“Most of the skirmishes took place in Agusan del Norte and Sur and in Surigao del Sur,” he said.
“The NPA is resorting to threat and intimidation to regain/recover lost ground brought about by their atrocities and abuses,” Brigadier General Ricardo Visaya, Commander of the 4th ID, said.
But Visaya said the cooperation extended by civilians proved that the NPA had permanently lost its footing in these villages.
“The success of these encounters was made possible by the information valiantly given by peace-loving concerned citizens,” he said.
“They (villagers) already have enough sufferings,” Visaya added.
In Digos City, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Zuniega, the commander of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion said the military would not have to intervene as much in securing the city as the local government had shown it was capable of guarding the people against the NPA.
Zuniega said the military also managed to drive away communist rebels from their strongholds there.
“There are no more armed groups lurking in the remote villages of the city since the communist rebels vacated the area,” Zuniega said.
Zuniega said he had recommended the handover of the Internal Security Effort (ISE) to the local government of Digos starting September 26.
A memorandum of agreement on peace and security will also be signed between the military and city officials by then, according to Zuniega.
Zuniega said some local officials were apprehensive about the military’s pullout but he told them the military would immediately respond to calls for help in the future.