COTABATO CITY: The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis has severely limited the movement of the communist guerillas in the hinterland town of Arakan, North Cotabato, leading to a series of surrenders recently, an Army official said Thursday.
Lt. Col Jasper Pecson, newly-designated Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) commander, said the number of communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) rebels in Arakan has gone down to 30 up to 40 from as high as 200 combatants last year.
“The number of NPA firearms was also reduced to as low as 20 (pieces),” Pecson said over Catholic-run DXND radio station in Kidapawan City.
He said the figures are based on a periodic status report of the Army’s intelligence personnel, and information provided by former rebels who are now getting livelihood assistance from the government.
The Army unit based in Arakan has succeeded in convincing the rebels to abandon the movement following the death of its leader, Commander Chuy of Guerilla Front 53, during one of the recent encounters with government troops in the area, the military official said.
“The rebels who surrendered are now enrolled under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) of the government for ex-communist rebels,” he said.
Pecson said the Covid-19 quarantine measures that restricted people’s movement have taken a toll on the NPA’s resources, as the guerillas find it difficult to mulct farmers and business people.
On his new assignment, Pecson vowed to empower the youth and peoples’ organizations in the campaign to put an end to local recruitment by the NPA.
He said that among the 19IB’s notable accomplishments include the dismantling of Pulang Bagani Command 2; the weakening of the NPA Guerilla Front 53, neutralization of NPA personalities; surrender of hundreds of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA “terrorist mass base” supporters; and recoveries of assorted firearms through surrenders and successful military offensives.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
(PNA/ Edwin Fernandez/ SRNY/ RSP)