Military cites significant gains in bid to crush NPA in W. Mindanao
PAGADIAN CITY – The military says it is on track in the campaign to destroy the strongholds of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Western Mindanao, citing anti-insurgency gains in 2020.
Maj. Gen. Generoso Ponio, commander of the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said NPA’s influence and strength in the region has been reduced to half due to its intensified campaign in 2020.
“Due to the dismantling of NPA units, the military is hopeful the rebel group can be fully eliminated or reduced to insignificant manpower by 2022,” Ponio told the Inquirer.
Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas, commander of the Philippine Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade, said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), through its Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee, controls seven guerrilla fronts and two region-wide units of the NPA.
These are spread across the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Misamis Occidental, the same areas covered by the Army brigade’s troops.
In 2019, according to Nicolas, the NPA in the region had 192 fighters with 168 firearms. By the end of 2020, this was down to only 84 fighters with 78 firearms, he said.
Nicolas added that of the nine guerrilla units, only two that operate in Misamis Occidental and parts of Zamboanga del Norte have remained active, holding out in the adjoining forested mountains in the two provinces.
The Army’s estimate of the NPA strength is based on intelligence and post-battle reports as well as the number of rebels who surrendered.
Nicolas attributed the successful military operations against the NPA to former rebels who shared information about guerrilla hideouts and places where arms caches and ammunition were kept.
The military particularly hailed the dismantling of the regional guerrilla units which, Nicolas said, were responsible for imposing the NPA’s so-called revolutionary taxation among target firms and individuals.
The commander of the Main Regional Guerrilla Unit, known as Jotham, was arrested while that of the Headquarters Kalaw, known as Peewee, surrendered along with his wife.
The biggest setback for the NPA in the region was the death of Leonido Nabong in an encounter with soldiers last November in Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte.
Nabong was considered a pillar of the communist rebellion in Western Mindanao who was acknowledged for his war planning skills.
In its 52nd anniversary statement, the CPP cited several setbacks in various NPA guerrilla fronts due to intensified operations by government forces.