CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Jose C. Faustino Jr. has said that the military is on track in its mission to crush the communist movement by the middle of next year, citing the significant gains of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Faustino, who is set to retire next month, visited troops of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID) here on Wednesday, and led the demilitarization of 316 firearms seized from New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in various operations from February to December last year.
The firearms, mostly M16 and AK47 assault rifles, were cut into pieces using a circular band saw and then burned.
Faustino said the seized firearms indicate the military’s success in curtailing the strength of the NPA in this part of the country.
The 4ID covers the entire Caraga region, and the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental, and the highly urbanized cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Northern Mindanao.
This is the military area which has the most active presence of the NPA guerrillas.
“Right now, we are on target,” Faustino said, referring to their self-imposed deadline of crushing the NPA by the time President Duterte bows out of office on June 30, 2022.
Faustino particularly pointed to the dwindling strength of the rebels in the eastern Mindanao region where he used to hold command as an Army official.
“Our enemies are getting weaker,” he said, adding that a similar trend is observed in other parts of the country that have the presence of NPA guerrillas.
Faustino hailed the NTF-ELCAC’s Support to Barangay Development program which is aimed at stirring development and bring social services closer to people in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas who are thought to be vulnerable to NPA influence and recruitment.
“We have a very good strategy. It is really working, we see how effective it is. We have here a strategy that works,” Faustino said.
This year, the national government is releasing P20 million to each of the 822 villages throughout the country for various development initiatives under the NTF-ELCAC’s program.
A total of 119 are in Northern Mindanao, including 71 in Bukidnon which continue to grapple with NPA presence.
Northern Mindanao local leaders are proposing the inclusion into the program of 178 more villages by 2022.
The program, according to Faustino, will help “insulate” villages that were taken by government forces away from NPA control through focused military operations.
With the entry of development into these communities, Faustino said the villagers will be effectively weaned from rebel influence.
In the last several months, the rebels in Northern Mindanao have suffered serious setbacks from military operations, mainly through deaths, captures and surrenders of fighters.
Early this month, a former guerrilla led authorities to a large cache of explosives kept by the NPA in Bukidnon.