Army engineers to help in SouthCot projects

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/1 Oct) – An engineering contingent from the Philippine Army will be deployed in South Cotabato province starting next month to assist the ongoing infrastructure and socio-economic development initiatives in the area.

Lt. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero, commander of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao, said Friday they will assign the 512th Engineer Construction “Kaagapay” Battalion to help build roads, classrooms and other vital infrastructure in remote parts of the province.

“We’ll be deploying more troops but they will specifically be engaged in development works in coordination with the provincial government,” he said in a press conference in Koronadal City.

The assignment of the engineering battalion came after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the provincial government of South Cotabato signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Friday, transferring the lead role of the AFP’s internal security efforts to the local government.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. signed the agreement on behalf of the provincial government while Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, represented the AFP.

Tabaquero said they transferred the lead role of the implementation of the internal security operations or ISO to the provincial government of South Cotabato after their troops successfully cleared the area of the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).

He said the local government will now lead the internal security efforts through the implementation of socio-economic and development projects in areas that were previously influenced by the communist rebels.

“This shows that South Cotabato is already cleared of the communist insurgency and is now ready for more progress and development,” the official said.

Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, commander of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said earlier this week that the entire province was declared as already cleared of the NPA’s presence when he assumed as 27IB 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 fronts 73 and 76.

The transfer of the ISO function to the provincial government was part of the enhanced National Internal Peace and Security Plan earlier endorsed by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

Under the plan, local government units (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.

Earlier this year, Tabaquero said the provinces of Camiguin and Misamis Occidental (not Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental as reported by local Army officials) signed the same agreements with the AFP.

South Cotabato is the third province in Mindanao that agreed to assume the lead role for the internal security efforts.

As an offshoot of the agreement, Pingoy said the Army’s 512th Engineering Battalion will assist the local government in completing a stalled road project that connects Barangays Ned in Lake Sebu and Upper Sepaka in Surallah town.

The construction of the road project, which was partly funded by the Asian Development Bank, was earlier stopped due to several reasons, among them the lack of equipment and the volatile peace and order situation in the area.

“The engineering battalion will fill our need for equipment and manpower. They already committed the services of their 24 Army engineers to do the work in Ned,” the governor said.

In line with this, Pingoy said the provincial government is set to sign a MOA with San Miguel Corporation (SMC), which offered to supply some P5 million worth of fuel, oil and lubricants for the heavy equipment that would be utilized for the project.

He said the provincial government will provide some allowances to the members of the Army engineering unit that will be assigned to the project.

Meantime, Segovia clarified that the transfer of the ISO’s lead role to the provincial government of South Cotabato will not cause the rumored pullout of the 27IB, which is based in Tupi town. “The 27IB is going to stay in South Cotabato,” the official stressed.

Segovia explained that they might later evaluate whether there is a need to reduce the presence of their troops in the province but such matter would depend on the results of the provincial government’s internal security efforts.

“But the 27IB, along with the 73IB in Sarangani, has been designated as standby force for our security operations in Central Mindanao so their strategic location is considered vital to our overall operations,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)