MALAYBALAY CITY – President Benigno Aquino III has recently promoted Col. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade based here, to a brigadier general, Capt. Eduardo Meclat, Jr., the brigade’s spokesman, said.
Gapuz assumed as chief of the brigade in August 2010. Previously, he was inspector general of the 3rd Infantry Division in Camp Jamindan in Capiz.
Meclat said Gapuz will remain in the brigade, which covers the provinces of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Camiguin, and parts of Agusan del Norte and Lanao del Sur.
Gapuz, who was promoted along with 16 others senior officers, will still have to face the Commission on Appointments, Meclat said.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981, Gapuz replaced Col. Nicanor E. Dolojan in the brigade. The latter was appointed in 2010 as deputy commander of the elite Special Operations Command in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.
Under Gapuz, the 403rd IB was instrumental in the surrender of New People’s Army rebels through “Oplan Bayanihan” or the AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan.
In February 2012, Gapuz accused about 2,500 lumads (indigenous peoples) under 13 tribal leaders to have allegedly connived with the NPA in southern Bukidnon during a session of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
He said the lumads served as mass support for the rebels making it more difficult for the military to curb the insurgency in the area.
But board member Roelito Gawilan, a Matigsalug chieftain who represents the association of barangay councils in the board, refuted Gapuz’s pronouncement.
“The Lumads serve as no mass base for the rebels. They have no alliance with the NPA,” he said.
Gawilan stressed that the lumads were forced to deal with the rebels only because the NPAs are the ones who reach out to them in the remote areas.
He added that the government, the military and the police are simply not found in the hinterlands.
In accusing the lumads, Gapuz had cited a claim of a tribal chieftain in San Fernando town he named as Datu Okit, who facilitated the surrender of former rebel Benjamin Salusad last year.
Salusad, along with 79 other alleged NPA members, surrendered to the 8th Infantry Battalion in Maramag town on Nov. 15. They turned in 25 high-powered firearms.
In June, Gapuz vowed to seek the Free and Prior Informed Consent of the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan tribe the next time they will enter their ancestral domain in Mt. Kitanglad.
He made the promise in a ritual of reconciliation held in the Mt. Kitanglad Cultural Heritage Center here following the protest from the tribe over the bombing conducted by the military in late April in parts of their territory.(Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)