Teodoro: NPA remains a big problem in some Mindanao provinces

In an interview with reporters inside the Eastern Mindanao Command here, Teodoro said the provinces of Agusan, Compostela Valley and Surigao remain problematic. The government, he said, is still doing its best to dismantle the New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla fronts operating in these areas. 

“It is because of the presence of gold mining operations in these areas that keep them running,” he claimed, referring to the “revolutionary taxes” that the communist rebels are collecting from the mining companies.

The NPAs maintain at least seven guerilla fronts in the provinces Teodoro mentioned. In Compostela Valley alone, three NPA fronts are currently operating.

According to Jorge Madlos, a.k.a. Ka Oris, National Democratic Front spokesperson for Mindanao, the NPA now operates "39 guerrilla fronts" in Mindanao alone and 102 nationwide.

Teodoro also admitted that provinces of Abra and Masbate remain a little bit problematic compared to other areas in Luzon.

He claimed that several NPA cadres have already availed of the social integration program of the government, wherein former rebels and their dependents are given a set of interventions to facilitate their integration into the mainstream of society. The program provides a P20,000 immediate cash assistance for every NPA rebel who surrenders.

Teodoro believes that the problem with the NPAs could not be resolved through civil military operations (CMO) alone. “All we need is an honest to goodness community-based dialogue to solve this problem. It’s just difficult in ComVal because of the gold,” he said.

Among the large-scale mining companies operating Compostela Valley are Apex Mining Company and the British-backed Crew Minerals Corporation.

But the former commander of the Army’s 101st Infantry Brigade, Col. Allan Luga, told MindaNews in December 2008 that logging, more than gold mining or planting banana, has been a major source of  funds for the Southern Mindanao Regional (Party) Committee (of the Communist Party of the Philippines).

“They have the most number of people, most number of firearms. Here is where they get most of their resources…. they get a lot of resources here. They get a lot of money here,” he said citing gold mining in Diwalwal, logging and banana plantations.

As the government is trying to beat its 2010 deadline to crush the communist movement, Teodoro denies accusations that it is also targeting legal fronts of the communist movement.

“Why should we waste our time in crushing these legal fronts? They are legitimate organizations,” he said, adding that the fight is between the military and the armed groups.

As the deadline nears, militant groups have expressed fears that more of their leaders would be targetted for liquidation for being suspected as supporters of the communist movement.

Kelly Delgado, secretary general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, said extrajudicial killings may even get worse because civilians suspected as communist supporters will become targets.

Last year, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Alexander Yano admitted that the governme
nt might not be able to wipe out the 40-year-old communist movement by 2010.

The former chief of staff, retired Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo set the 2010 deadline.

The defense chief has downplayed the strength of the NPA. “The NPA is not so strong as what they are trying to show. What the government is looking at now are these organized groups who are also pretending to be NPAs,” Teodoro said but did not elaborate. He said that among the organized groups is the Abu Sayyaf.

The military estimates that the NPA has a remaining fighting force of 5,000. It reportedly peaked at 25,000 in 1986. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)