Armed groups, NPA and AFP militarization

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila - The Philippine Star

We just had the sixth anniversary of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre where some 58 innocent people, 34 of them working journalists were killed all in the name of keeping one’s power in their political fiefdom. This is why I was struck by the Dec. 8, 2015 editorial of The Philippine STAR entitled, “Dismantling Armed Groups.” So allow me to reprint the first portion of that editorial, as it is our topic today.

“With the general elections just six months away, the Philippine National Police has announced that it is zeroing in on private armed groups identified with politicians. As of yesterday, police officials counted at least 71 such PAGs that the PNP intends to dismantle. The figure appears to be a conservative estimate, but it’s good that the PNP is committing to dismantle PAGs. This effort must be accompanied by an effective campaign to stop the proliferation of unlicensed guns and enforce the election gun ban.”

During the election campaign of the 2010 Presidential elections, I was with then Defense Secretary Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr. and often I would speak for and in his behalf during student forums when he cannot attend them. Many students studying in Cebu come from Mindanao and these questions were asked of me why the Defense Department under Gibo at that time could not stop these armed groups? Of course I gave them a clear answer that these armed groups were in one way or another directly linked with politicians who control a certain province and our ugly political system.

Remember when then Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) supreme head Ruben Ecleo Jr. became a fugitive after he allegedly killed his wife in Cebu, he went into hiding in his turf, Dinagat Island. When the court ordered for his arrest and the PNP sent a small police force and ended up killing nearly 20 rabid PBMA cult members and a few policemen from the arresting team that was sent to Dinagat Island. That was on July 2002 and if you read the news reports written about this incident, then House Speaker Jose de Venecia seemed helpless to denounce the Ecleos for the unnecessary killing that happened during the arrest of Ruben Ecleo.

At this point, I dare challenge the PNP to try and dismantle the Ecleo influenced Dinagat Island and try to get rid of the private army of the Ecleos. But I doubt if the PNP can do it. Not far from Dinagat Island is the Province of Surigao which has been in the forefront of the news about the killings of Lumads purportedly by the military. Many of these Lumads have accused the Philippine government of the “militarization” of Surigao. But what really is the truth behind these accusations?

The real reason why there is “militarization” of Surigao stems from the reality that many parts of this province are heavily “influenced” by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA), which have been harassing many mining operations for their so-called “Revolutionary Taxes.” Mind you, most politicians in that area have a sort of “modus vevendi” with the NPAs so that they could campaign without fear of being ambushed by the NPAs.

In short, if the NPAs did not operate in those areas, then there would be no need for the military to be there. The same reality happened to Cebu years back when the NPAs were active in northern Cebu. But in the year 2005 then Cebu Governor Gwen F. Garcia declared Cebu Province to be insurgency free. Then the NPAs swore that rivers of blood would flow in Cebu. But that was a threat that they could not deliver because peace really came to Cebu and the communist insurgency dissipated into simple banditry.

The dividends of peace allowed Gov. Garcia to go into her “Suroy-Suroy” tourism program bringing to the farthest reaches in Cebu many of the tourists who come to Cebu City… thus everyone, especially the small towns of Cebu benefited from that program and it is largely due to the fact that Cebu now has really no armed groups to be worried about. Without the communist insurgency, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also pulled out its troops and thus no one can say that Cebu is militarized.

Mind you the same thing also happened in the Island of Bohol, which areas like Trinidad or Ubay was heavily infested by communist insurgents, including the Segura Family farm of my mother’s family in Catigbian, Bohol. But when the NPAs left the scene, the military pulled out their troops.

Today, Catigbian Bohol under Mayor Roberto Salinas (a retired Navy officer) enjoys a great tourism boom that was unheard of when the NPAs once roamed the countryside. So it’s a no brainer. If you don’t want your area to be militarized, then let the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) rid the area of NPAs and other insurgents and the military would leave the area. So can the PNP rid us of armed groups? It really depends upon them.

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