MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen Emmanuel Bautista reminded commanders of their goal to end the insurgency by 2016, saying it’s time for the military to focus on external defense and other tasks.
“We have a sense of urgency now to conclude our internal security issues. We need to focus on emerging issues — as I mentioned, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and climate change,” Bautista told reporters on Thursday, July 11, after a command conference to assess military operations from January to June.
“We are addressing so many issues — internal security, territorial defense, and climate change. It is now the typhoon season. We will have more calamities. We will respond to that,” Bautista added.
Manila is caught in a row with Beijing over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), a territorial dispute that is putting tremendous pressure on the military, whose resources and personnel are deployed to fight local wars.
Under the IPSP (Internal Peace and Security Plan) Bayanihan, the AFP aims to “conclude” by 2016 internal security threats from the CPP-NPA-NDF (CNN), Abu Sayyaf Group, rogue MNLF elements, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF).
“We should have reduced the capabilities of internal security threats,” Bautista said. He maintained they are on track in meeting the 2016 deadline.
The communist New People’s Army (NPA) has launched a series of spectacular attacks this year, the latest of which was an ambush of policemen undergoing training in Baguio City.
Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, the umbrella organization of the NPA, also bogged down, raising fears of a deteriorating peace and order situation in the countryside.
On Thursday, hopes of a breakthrough in the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front dimmed after the failure of both sides to hammer out an agreement on wealth sharing.
NPA still biggest threat
AFP public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala identified the NPA as the “biggest threat to our country’s peace and security.”
The NPA has been waging Asia’s longest running insurgency. Bautista puts the current number of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to “more than 4,000,” majority of them based in Eastern Mindanao.
Zagala identifed the January ambush in La Castellana in Negros Occidental and the April ambush of Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona as among the “atrocities” of the NPA this year.
But as the AFP noted increased activities from the NPA, it claimed it has “sustained its momentum on focused military operations against the NPA in the first semester of 2013.”
Bautista said 29 of the country’s 81 provinces have been handed over to the local government units — meaning the LGUs now take the lead in local peace and security in their respective areas.
The AFP is aiming to turn over 13 more provinces to the LGUs by the end of the year, Zagala said.
AFP said it also increased “engagements” to 350 in the first semester of 2013 from 312 during the same period last year. The number of apprehended NPAs is also higher from 50 to 99 during the same period.
Even if talks with the NDF are stalled, what the government aims to do is “to make the armed struggle irrelevant” and “for them to abandon the armed struggle,” Bautista said.
Bautista acknowledged there is continued recruitment but he said there is a significant number of surrenderees, too.
Bautista said they need more cooperation from the people. “No matter what gains we achieve, [it’s weakened] if there are still issues that will agitate people to address the armed struggle. We have to address the issue being exploited by the [rebels],” Bautista said.
On the other hand, the AFP now considers the MILF a “non-hostile” entity. Not a single encounter has occurred between soldiers and MILF rebels since last year, according to Zagala.
“In Mindanao, we are optimistic of the rightful conlucsion of the peace talks,” Bautista said.
“We remain vigilant to prevent peace spoilers from derailing thepecae process,” he added.
A breakaway command of the MILF ambushed an army truck and attacked an army camp on Saturday, July 6, ahead of the resumption of peace talks. At least 31 Muslim rebels and 5 soldiers were killed in the clashes.
As far as the Abu Sayyaf Group is concerned, AFP said 175 were “neutralized” and 26 are now facing charges.
The AFP received a P75-billion military upgrade to help defend the country’s maritime territory. It is going to procure, among others, 12 fighter aircraft from South Korea and 2 frigates from a yet to be identified supplier.
The AFP is also aiming to increase number of personell “should the budget allow us,” said Bautista.
“We have not had any increase in our troops for a long time. [Consider] the magnitude of issues we face right now simultaneously,” Bautista said. — Rappler.com