AFP bent on downgrading anti-insurgency ops to crime fighting

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 May) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines is bent on downgrading the fight against the New People’s Army (NPA) into a crime-fighting operation and is calling on local government units and the Philippine National Police to take the lead.

Maj. Gen. Victor Felix, chief of the 4th Infantry Division said the AFP would be willing to work with communities and the police to go after criminal groups and attain peace.

“Working hand-in-hand with other stakeholders in our society such as in this case the PNP and the Barangay, is essential in our goals of wining peace,” he said.

The Internal Peace and Security Plan, otherwise known as Oplan Bayanihan under the administration of Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III is focused on promoting peace and development especially in conflict areas, said Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the 4th ID.

“Our focus in the AFP now is to help in good governance and the role of law by assisting in the delivery of basic services to communities that have difficulties accessing them,” Osias told Mindanews.

The AFP, he said will help the PNP in anti-crime campaigns like going after crimes of extortion, murder, kidnapping and other common crimes.

In April this year, the 4th ID and the PNP in Northern Mindanao signed a memorandum of agreement for the joint police and military operations.

He added that of all the government agencies, the AFP has the deepest reach and has been operating in remote communities. This time however, he explained, they’d rather not go there in combat.

“The AFP is now gearing towards strengthening its external security capabilities and turning over internal security operations (ISO) to LGUs and the PNP,” Osias said.

In Northern Mindanao, the ISO was turned over to the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) in Misamis Oriental and Camiguin last year. “Hopefully, the ISO will be turned over to the Bukidnon PNP this year,” Osias said.

Oplan Bayanihan, he added, focuses on addressing the core grievances of people to dissuade them from joining the armed struggle.

According to Osias, recent developments tend to indicate that the 42-year old communist insurgency is driven by people’s grievances against government and no longer much on ideological fervor.

Osias debunked criticism from progressive organizations that Oplan Bayanihan is no different from previous anti-insurgency campaigns.

The National Democratic Front with whom government is negotiating peace, has repeatedly said there is “no fundamental or qualitative difference between Oplan Bayanihan and Oplan Bantay Laya I and II and earlier campaign plans of the Armed Forces of the Philippine.”

“Even if it purports to represent a radical shift from the previous fascist and militarist Oplan, it is in essence an extension of OBL I and II. The old oplan has merely been given new garb and being peddled as a grandiose program for peace, development and human rights,” it added.

Osias said Civil Military Operations (CMO) are penetrating remote villages to consult the people about their problems and grievances. “Kaya if our troops on the ground tell us that in this or that community, problema is farm-to-market road, we will convince the LGUs or the concerned agency to prioritize this project. If they are afraid or they lack budget, we’ll ask them to buy cement and our troops will provide the labor. The same with health center or classrooms,” he said. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)