More soldiers key to stopping armed groups in Samar – military officer

TACLOBAN, Philippines – The top Philippine Army officer in Eastern Visayas said the additional deployment of troops to the 3 provinces of Samar Island would be key to driving out communist rebels and private armed groups (PAGs).

President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered that more soldiers and police be sent to the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental, as well as the region of Bicol, to "suppress lawless violence and acts of terror." (READ: Robredo questions Duterte order vs 'lawless violence')

The province of Samar is part of Samar Island, which also includes two other provinces – Northern Samar and Eastern Samar.

Hundreds more soldiers will be sent to  Samar Island, according to Major General Raul Farnacio, who said "taking extreme measures" is necessary "because circumstances demand it."

"[Sending] additional troops is needed to ensure deterrence of the armed groups in Samar, especially in Calbayog," Farnacio, commander of the 8th Infantry Division based in Samar, told Rappler in a phone interview.

"Malaki ang problema sa 1st District of Samar, dahil sa hindi ma-contain 'yung PAGs at 'yun nga, meron kaming intelligence reports na madami ang arrivals of PAGs ngayon sa Samar galing sa Misamis," he added.

(We have a huge problem in the 1st District of Samar, because the PAGs cannot be contained, and we've received intelligence reports that many PAGs are arriving in Samar from Misamis.)

PAGs and members of the communist New People's Army (NPA), according to Farnacio, are recruiting members in Samar, aside from attacking local officials and civilians.

Back in October, former San Jose de Buan mayor Ananias Rebato was killed after being ambushed by the NPA.

Farnacio said details of the additional deployment are still being ironed out.

"We are still working it out with the PNP (Philippine National Police) – in our Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Council meeting – the guidelines, parameters, and limitations," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Kasama na dito na pag-uusapan namin ang mga reported na mga bayad na police at army ng iilang mga politiko sa Samar (We'll also talk about members of the police and army reportedly being paid by several politicians in Samar)," he added.

Samar 1st District Representative Edgar Mary Sarmiento, who has urged the police and military to intensify efforts against armed groups, said "there will be hope, now that at least something is being done."

"We need to trust our government and our justice system," he added. –