New Eastern Mindanao military commander vows strong push vs communist rebels

MANILA, Philippines – The new military commander in Eastern Mindanao vowed a strong campaign against communist guerrillas in one of the decades-long rebellion’s remaining strongholds, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said on Sunday, January 26.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Major General Jose Faustino assumed his new post in a change-of-command ceremony at Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City, on Saturday, January 25.

Eastmincom’s previous commander, General Felimon Santos Jr, was installed as AFP Chief-of-Staff on January 4.

Faustino echoed Santos’ earlier message of pushing the administration’s objective to quash the rebellion of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in June 2022.

"We will not tire. We will not falter. We will break them hard so that no Filipino will become hostage to this godless communist ideology ever again," Faustino said during his assumption speech.

Faustino highlighted the administration’s “localized, whole-of-nation approach” to battling the communists based on Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) no. 70, which Santos earlier hailed as having been successful in enticing hundreds of guerrillas to surrender, thus weakening the rebel forces.

During the ceremony, Santos said that Eastmincom had so far cleared five NPA guerrilla fronts, dismantled four of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani battalions, and “neutralized” a large number of NPA members, including high-value targets.

Faustino also vowed to "take the fight to the heart of [the communists’] ideology, to the center of their comfort zones, and to the deepest and remotest guerrilla bases."

Mindanao veteran

Faustino is a member of the Philippine Military Academy’s (PMA) “Maringal” class of 1988.

Before becoming Eastmincom chief, he was the commander of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division based in Mindanao, headquartered in Compostela Valley province. The unit mainly battles communist rebels and extremist groups.

Faustino once led the AFP’s 11th Intelligence Service Unit based in Davao City, the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion in Western Mindanao, and then the 501st Infantry Brigade as its commander.

He had also been the Tactical Officer and, eventually, Commandant of Cadets at the PMA.

He spent his early years in the service with the First Scout Ranger Regiment, an elite Army unit.

Push vs. communists

After welcoming certain members of the communist movement into his administration early in his term, Duterte turned back on negotiations with the CPP’s political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), when the NPA allegedly carried on with attacks on government forces and civilians despite a ceasefire in late 2017.

About a year later, Duterte issued EO 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The NTF-ELCAC combines military and local government efforts to put pressure on individual communist rebel fronts, enticing guerrillas with cash and other incentives for their surrender, while military operations target their militias.

Then in early December 2019, Duterte made a surprise offer to revive peace talks with the NDF. Preliminary exchanges between the two sides have so far failed to set the stage for actual negotiations, and security officials said that military operations against the communists would continue unless Duterte orders a ceasefire.

The military and police have been increasingly aggressive in pursuing the NPA, including groups they said were “legal fronts” of the rebellion. In 2019, tensions rose as progressive groups such as the Gabriela Women’s Party were “red-tagged” or branded as NPA proxies, sparking outrage among the groups' members and human rights advocates. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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