No more NPA rebels in South Cotabato, says military

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 September) – The lead role in implementing internal security operations in South Cotabato will be turned over this week to the provincial government, as the province is now “insurgency-free”, an Army official today said.

Lt. Col. Alex Noel Bravo, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, said the AFP will sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the local government of South Cotabato on Friday to formalize the transfer of the ISO implementation, which would now focus on socio-economic development initiatives.

“We already cleared the whole province of insurgents or rebel units belonging to the New People’s Army (NPA) so the ISO efforts will now be concentrated on development and that will be under the lead initiative of the LGU (local government unit),” he said in a media forum in Koronadal City.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. will sign the agreement for the provincial government and Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, for the AFP, he said.

The MOA signing, which will be held at the South Cotabato Gymnasium and Cultural Center in Koronadal City, will be witnessed by Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and AFP Eastern Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero.

The official said the transfer of the ISO function to the provincial government was part of the Internal Peace and Security Plan endorsed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III that took effect last January 1.

Under the plan, he said LGUs will assume the lead role in implementing the consolidation and development phase of the ISO after the completion of the clearing phase by the AFP.

Bravo said the LGUs will mainly facilitate the convergence of various government agencies in the implementation of development-related projects and programs in areas that were previously influenced by NPA rebels.

He said the initiative was launched earlier this year in Central Luzon and in the provinces of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon here in Mindanao.

South Cotabato will be the third province in Mindanao that will take part in the initiative, he said.

Citing their records, Bravo said the entire province was declared as already cleared of the NPA’s presence when he assumed as 27th IB commander last May.

Such declaration was earlier made based on a report from the Joint AFP/PNP Intelligence Committee or JAPEC.

He explained that that their troops specifically dismantled the political structure and so-called “shadow government” in several villages within the province’s 10 towns and lone city that had been established by the NPA’s guerilla front 73.

“There are no more armed groups to speak about that are still based in the area so we will just take the supporting role in the ISO implementation,” Bravo said.

Under the MOA, he said the provincial government will establish the Provincial Public Safety and Security Operations Center, which will spearhead the ISO implementation and handle issues and concerns on the matter.

Bravo said the AFP will also deploy one of its engineering battalions to the province to undertake development projects such as the construction of classroom buildings, roads and other vital infrastructure in areas that were previously shunned by private contractors due to security concerns.

Initially, he said they are working for the deployment of the engineering battalion in Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu town to assist the implementation of a road project in the area.

“The assignment of the engineering battalion will be very beneficial to the LGUs since these units usually implement infrastructure projects at much lower costs when compared to private contractors,” he said.

He cited that a single classroom building, which usually costs P600,000 when constructed by private contractors, would only cost P400,000 when undertaken by the AFP’s engineering unit.

“We will also help in seeking funding for socio-economic projects and other initiatives that will eventually enable the provincial government to effectively address its internal security concerns,” he said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)