GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 Feb) – The provincial government of South Cotabato has expanded its outreach activities in upland villages of T’boli and Lake Sebu towns in a bid to counter the reported movements of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the area.
Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Tuesday they are currently delivering various basic services to remote communities in the two municipalities to help restore the confidence of local residents to the government and offset the NPA’s ongoing recruitment activities.
She admitted that the NPA’s mass support in the area has swelled in the past months, allowing the rebels to expand their activities.
“These are barangays and sitios that were practically isolated for a long time in terms of basic services that residents felt they were neglected by the government,” she said in a radio interview.
Citing intelligence reports, the governor said the NPA’s Front 73 has reportedly been trying to expand their presence and set up a base in the hinterland areas of T’boli and Lake Sebu since last year with the support of their mass base.
She said most of the rebels supposedly came from areas outside the province, specifically the provinces of Sarangani, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.
Fuentes said the group’s presence was specifically noted in parts of Barangay Lamfugon and Sitios Blit and Tasiman in Lake Sebu as well as villages situated near the boundaries of T’boli and Maasim in Sarangani Province.
Last week, a member of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) was killed in encounter with an undetermined number of NPA rebels reportedly under its Front 73.
Fuentes said the rebels returned to the area last year, two years after their unit was forced to leave their base in a remote village in Banga town mainly due to lack of support from local residents.
She said such development was partly due to the implementation of various socio-economic projects in areas previously influenced by the rebels.
Such situation resulted to the declaration of the province by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in September 2011 as insurgency-free.
Fuentes said their expanded outreach program, which started last month, mainly complements with the ongoing peace and development initiatives of the 27IB and their intensified security operations in the area.
“We’re targeting to uproot this group from the area within the next three years,” she said.
Fuentes said the outreach activities are spearheaded by personnel from the provincial government’s Barangay Affairs Office.
She said the activities include the delivery of medical and other health-related services and provision of livelihood projects to local residents.
In the last two weeks, the governor said she has been conducting a series of community dialogues in several villages in Lake Sebu as part of the initiative.
“We’ve proven in the past that this is the best strategy to counter the insurgency problem and eventually resolve it without firing a single gunshot,” she added.