GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/28 May) — Government troops have intensified their “peace and development” initiatives in the hinterland villages of T’boli and Lake Sebu towns in South Cotabato in a bid to counter the reported recruitment activities of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.
1Lt. Bethuel Barber, civil-military operations chief of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB), said Tuesday they recently monitored fresh movements of suspected NPA rebels under the Front 73 in some communities in T’boli and Lake Sebu towns to recruit new members.
“This is a very small (NPA) unit and it’s been recruiting new members to increase its number,” he said in a radio interview.
The official said the rebels have been reportedly visiting T’boli tribal communities and “dubiously” promising residents of some benefits in exchange for joining their cause.
Last year, 18 alleged NPA rebels operating in the towns of Lake Sebu, Surallan and T’boli surrendered to the 27th IB after some negotiations facilitated by local officials and some of their comrades.
The rebel returnees, some of whom were minors, claimed that they were lured into joining the rebel movement due to promises of monetary benefits and other incentives from their recruiters and NPA leaders.
The promised benefits, which supposedly never came, include regular food allowance of a sack of rice every month for their families and a monthly “salary” of P5,000.
The returnees disclosed such information during a profiling conducted by the South Cotabato Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office as a pre-requisite for their enlistment into the national government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program.
To counter the NPA’s recruitment activities, Barber said they have launched community outreach programs in the area in coordination with the local government units.
He said these initiatives, which were part of its peace and development framework, includes of medical and dental outreach activities as well as providing assistance to local communities and residents in availing some basic services of the government.
Barber said they were also conducting information and education campaigns among residents regarding the NPA activities.
The official said their troops are also assisting local communities in fortifying their defenses against possible intrusions by criminals and other armed elements.
“Our peace and development outreach activities were proven to be very effective in terms of countering NPA activities in our remote areas,” he said.
Earlier this month, officials of the 27th IB said it has monitored movements by NPA units within the boundary areas of the municipalities of Lake Sebu, Tboli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Sarangani and South Cotabato boundary; and, Koronadal City and Columbio, Sultan Kudarat boundary.
Major Gerald Monfort, 27th IB executive officer, said a big group of NPA rebels was confirmed to have been moving towards the boundary of Koronadal City and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat prior to the elections this month.
He said the group, which was reportedly advancing towards Koronadal City, could have planned to stage attacks to disrupt the conduct of the previous polls in the area.
The official said the rebels were allegedly composed of combined units under the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Revolutionary Committee and with “heavily-armed” members coming from as far as Matanao in Davao del Sur. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)