SURIGAO DEL SUR, Philippines – The Philippine Army has deployed 500 troops, an entire battalion, to this province to run after communist guerrillas, in a show of force last seen here in the late 1990s.
Plucked from the 2nd Infantry Division based in Tanay, Rizal, the 16th infantry battalion arrived here on Wednesday, January 20, and was put under the operational control of the 4th Infantry Division’s 402nd Brigade.
Their deployment makes Surigao del Sur among the provinces with the biggest number of soldiers in Mindanao.
Surigao del Sur has 17 municipalities and 2 cities with a population of 550,000.
Before the arrival of the 16th IB, there were already 8 battalions – or about 4,000 troops – securing the Surigao and Agusan provinces.
Governor Johnny Pimentel said the province and neighboring Agusan del Sur are the strongest bailiwicks of the communist New People’s Army, which has an estimated 4,000 armed regulars in Mindanao.
The area is also the base of Jorge Madlos, the spokesman for Mindanao of the communist-led National Democratic Front.
Rebels began gaining ground here in 1989. The military was able to make them retreat, but they managed to recover in the middle of 2000s.
“We have a beautiful and rich province, but it is not a peaceful province,” Pimentel told the soldiers during the welcome ceremony for them.
“We have been combating insurgency for some time now and at one time, the province had six army battalions,” Pimentel added.
“While other provinces have been cleared [of insurgency], in Surigao, it has become a problem,” Pimentel said.
The military has said it intends to finish the communist insurgency by the end of the term of President Benigno Aquino III in June. This part of Mindanao is what the military considers as one its “end points.”
Colonel Isidro Purisima said that the NPA here holds influence in the Andap Valley, which covers 5 towns.
The most recent firefight happened on January 16 in Barangay Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, which killed 5 guerrillas. – Bobby Lagsa/Rappler.com