|Maj. Gen. Yerson Depayso|
The government’s security sector, however, is doing all measures to clear these areas of the threat so that they are, at least by the end of 2016, be declared, along with the other four Bicol provinces, as “conflict manageable and ready for further development (CMRFD)” areas, Depayso said.
The four provinces—Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Albay -- have been declared as CMRFD areas one after the other starting late last year up to early this year following the forging of separate memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with the respective provincial governments and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Each MOU formalized the declaration of a particular province as a CMRFD area as recommended by the provincial government through a resolution passed by its local legislative board.
The signing of the MOU, according to Depayso, signaled the "shifting of effort" from clearing of barangays from insurgent affectation supported by socio-economic development to a reverse role.
It also emphasizes the implementation of more socio-economic and development projects that the civil government will implement with the continuous support and protection of the military.
The declarations of peace in these four provinces were based on the decreased violent activities of the NPA, the reduction of its potential support system in the barangays and its failed recovery efforts.
This achievement, according to Depayso, was made possible through the cooperation of the leaders of the province, along with the local government units (LGUs), who have partnered with the AFP in fighting insurgency.
The 45-year-old insurgency being waged by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF), he said, has been preventing the progress and economic development of all affected localities in Bicol and in the country.
“These MOUs bring great pleasure for it is a proof that the efforts of the government and its armed forces to restore peace and tranquility in the provinces have not been put in vain. We in the military stand by our mandate as the protector of the people and keepers of the integrity of the state,” Depayso stressed.
At least these first four Bicol provinces are now provided with space where the people can feel safe and grow as progressive communities and, Depayso said, the AFP wants this environment expanded down to Sorsogon and Masbate.
The AFP has been maintaining the presence of the Philippine Army (PA) for about 16 years now in Bicol with its 9th Infantry (Spear) Division (ID) based in Pili, Camarines Sur, manning the internal security of the region from the activities of the NPA.
This PA ID is in command of three infantry brigades composed of eight infantry battalions and seven support units, including an engineering battalion, distributed in all the six provinces of the region.
In over 40 years, Depayso said, Bicol’s opportunity to advance to progress -- with its vast mineral deposits, agricultural lands, rich fishing grounds, exotic tourist destinations, rich natural resources and hard-working people -- has been stalled by unstable peace situation due to the presence of the NPA and the culture of violence it has developed among local communities.
The NPA members prevent the implementation of government infrastructure projects, harass mining companies, extort money in the form of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, contractors and even from farmers, and execute those who refuse to remit, including innocent civilians and civilian government officials.
Now, the strength of the rebels in the four provinces has been significantly reduced, paving the way for the CMRFD declaration.
In the case of Sorsogon, the military chief said, the Area Clearing Validation Board (ACVB) from the 9th ID and the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional office for Bicol recently convened to validate the reports on the clearing of 13 rebel-affected barangays of the five municipalities of the province.
The ACVB, chaired by Brig.Gen. Ignacio Obligacion, assistant division commander of 9ID, according to Depayso, is looking at declaring Sorsogon along with Masbate under CMRFD before the end of 2016.
These 13 Sorsogon barangays, which have undergone AFP’s Bayanihan Team Activities, have been recommended “cleared of NPA” by the Area Clearing Evaluation Team headed by Col. Alden Juan Masagca, deputy commander of the 903rd Infantry Brigade based in the province.
Such recommendation was the subject of the validation by the ACVB in reference to AFP/PNP Joint Letter Directive dated Oct. 13 2008 that states, among others, that a resolution from the Board will be signed by the members from AFP and PNP and for approval of the provincial chief executive.
The 9ID, Depayso said, is in the right track on its internal peace and security operations campaign plan which is currently on its Phase IV--clearing of Sorsogon and Masbate provinces.
“I am optimistic that the security sector would continue to achieve significant gains in addressing the threat situation in the province of Sorsogon and Masbate, obviously resulting from concerted efforts of different stakeholders in addressing social problems. Bicol is now on its way towards becoming a region of peace, progress, and prosperity," he added. (by Danny Calleja, PNA)