DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 June) – The military on Monday claimed that the killing of rebel leader Leoncio Pitao, popularly known as Commander Parago Sandoval, is a big blow to the communist movement as it will further weaken the New People’s Army in the region.
But for the communist rebels, Pitao’s death will only further fuel the courage and determination of the NPA guerrillas to pursue revolution in the countryside.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said in a news conference on Monday that Pitao’s men have already separated from the main unit following the series of clashes since early June.
Pitao was killed in an encounter with government troops in his known stronghold in the hinterlands of Paquibato District last Sunday.
Año believes that the death of Pitao was a big blow to the NPA fronts operating in the hinterlands of the city and Davao del Norte. “This is going to be the fall of the NPAs in the Davao Region,” he said.
He added that Pitao’s death can cause a huge setback in the entire hierarchy of the communist movement in the region.
Pitao’s group, the First Pulang Bagani Company of the NPA, is the toughest front in the area, the military official admitted.
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command, claimed that even before the death of the top NPA leader, many cadres have already left the guerilla movement and returned to the fold of the law.
Baladad cited the Army’s data stating that 220 NPA rebels have been neutralized since January until June, which he broke down into 38 killed, 42 arrested and 140 others surrendered.
The data further showed 127 firearms have been recovered.
From 29 guerrilla fronts in the second quarter of 2014, the military was able to dismantle five guerilla fronts in the second quarter this year in its area of responsibility, Baladad said.
He said that from these figures, it goes to show that the rebel movement is weakening.
Eastern Mindanao Command covers the provinces of Agusan, Davao, Compostela and Surigao.
Simon Santiago, NPA’s spokesperson in Davao Region, refuted the military claims, saying that the death of Pitao will not weaken the communist movement in the region.
In a text message to MindaNews, Santiago added that the slain rebel leader has been revered as an icon not just among the ranks of the guerrillas but also among the people in the countryside.