TO ENSURE that the province of Cebu remains insurgency-free, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is considering the revival of the “bloodless, all-out war” she had previously waged against threats to security.
The pronouncement came after a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and a suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA) were killed in a gunfight in Bilar, Bohol on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.
“In order to discourage insurgency movement, it has to be an all-out war against the NPA, communists, insurgents and terrorists. I declared that in my previous term as governor and when I said ‘all-out war,’ it meant a holistic approach towards the insurgency problem,” Garcia said on Monday, March 2.
The governor stressed the need to ensure that development and livelihood opportunities will reach the farthest barangays in order to improve the people’s lives.
“The important thing is to create an environment that does not encourage insurgency--a progressive Cebu that offers opportunities for the Cebuanos to improve their lives,” she said.
In March 2010, the AFP made a declaration that all 44 municipalities and eight component cities of Cebu were insurgency-free.
Cebu’s status as an insurgency-free province came after Garcia formed the Cebu Provincial Anti-Insurgency Task Force on June 26, 2006.
“For those that have been deceived into joining the NPA movement and later found out that (coming) from a life of hardship, it’s a life of more hardships... I will resume, I will offer incentives to all insurgents that will surrender in Cebu,” Garcia continued.
According to the governor, for every firearm surrendered, the Provincial Government will extend P30,000 in cash incentives so that surrenderers can start anew.
This will be handled by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office.
After all, Garcia said the rebel returnees may want to be reintegrated into the “normal, legal” way of life.
Local chief executives for their part will also help in the surrenderers’ reintegration to society.
Under Garcia’s earlier term, the Province had provided financial assistance worth P30,000 to each of the 74 NPAs who surrendered from 2005 to 2010.
Of these 74 rebels, 21 NPA surrenderers had received financial assistance from the Social Integration Program.
“That was what I did before, and we will do it again. At the same time, I will extend the same support to our PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP. I would aso request that the PNP and the AFP work together here,” Garcia said.
The proclamation of an all-out war against insurgents in 2005 became a model for other local government units in the country.
“I believe that a number of people within the NPA movement, if given a chance, would wish to return to the fold of the law. Life in the hinterlands is hard. Make no mistake about it. There is only one Philippine government. It is incumbent upon us to know where our loyalties lie,” Garca said.
The governor is set to meet with key national agencies and stakeholders to discuss the matter, among others, during the Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Commission meeting on Friday, March 6.
Meanwhile, the NPA has reportedly been trying to reclaim their stronghold in Bohol but the province will have none of it anymore.
This was what Col. Jerry Borja, commander of the Task Group Cebu-Bohol-Siquijor, told SunStar Cebu after the death of a soldier along with a suspected NPA member in Bilar, Bohol on Feb. 29.
“They only have temporary campouts in mountainous areas in Bohol. They don’t have established armed groups in any barangay because the communities are squealing on them and are fighting back,” he said.
Bohol’s insurgency-free status since 2010 remains, according to Borja. “They (NPA) are always on the run. There are no villages that protect them anymore. And the local government units are in constant coordination with us,” he said.
Borja said the NPA would conduct extortion activities in targeted areas.
Because of their ongoing efforts to regain influence in the community, Borja said these often result in clashes with government forces.
“They are trying to recover what they had before in Bohol. Now the people don’t want them,” he said.
He said the army and the police continue to be relentless in their anti-insurgency operations.
But why do insurgents like Bohol? “First, the people are really hospitable. Also, in our assessment, it’s because there are provinces nearby like Negros, and also (accessible sanctuaries) in the Eastern and Western part,” Borja said.
“That’s wrong. They (NPAs) are not welcome in Bohol,” he said.
On the other hand, Department of Trade and Industry 7 Director Asteria Caberte described the incident in Bohol as “an isolated case.” She said the agency is focusing on grassroots programs to help micro, small and medium enterprises deal with the negative impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Caberte said the DTI has sustained programs to generate income from cities down to the barangays. (RTF / JOB)