LORETO, Agusan del Sur – Like the Spartans in the movie “300,” the militiamen yelled “Ahoo! Ahoo!” that rumbled in the hot, concrete gym here, indicating they are ready to fight their enemies in this communist rebel-infested town.
Like in the movie, the militiamen, known also as Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members, will be given firearms by the government to fight the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who threaten the town of Loreto.
At least 120 Cafgus and 14 Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (SCAA) graduated last Wednesday after surviving a grueling 45-day training supervised by Army Special Forces units.
The SCAA personnel will be guarding an oil palm plantation in Loreto town.
“Puwede na mag gyera. Kabalo name unsaon (We are ready to battle. We already know how to),” Arnold Bulair said, wearing his new military uniform.
Bulair is a resident of Loreto and acknowledged that he has relatives and friends with the NPA rebels.
“Pero lain na kini kay panginabuhi naman ni (This is different because this has now become our livelihood,” Bulair said.
Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commanding general of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said that each CAFGU member received from the government a free military uniform, including a combat boots, and entitled to a P2,400 monthly salary—a “princely sum” considering the average family income in Loreto is only P5,458 a month.
Lactao said all of the militiamen would also receive livelihood trainings from government agencies to augment their family income.
“Here, it is not about the ideology that matters. It is livelihood or the means to it that matters most,” Lactao said.
Loreto, which straddles the tri-boundary of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental provinces, is a first-class municipality now with an annual Internal Revenue Allotment of P200 million.
Based on a 2005 report from the National Statistics Office, nearly 4,700 families out of the town’s 5,836 families were living below the poverty level.
Loreto has become a major stronghold of the NPA rebels, who have set up a shadowy government in the town with its alternative mayor and municipal council.
The military, however, has dismantled the shadowy government after a series of gunfights that resulted to scores of rebels, soldiers and civilians killed.
Lactao said the municipality has only a small police force of about 24 policemen safeguarding its peace and order.
“If we include the policemen who are about to retire, and those who are on sick leave, its police force is so small,” he said.
Lactao said the newly graduated Cafgus and SCAAs militiamen would be a welcome addition to the Army soldiers and policemen deployed in Loreto.
“The Cafgus are our force multipliers. We need them to guard the communities and villages,” Lactao said.
The Army’s 4th Infantry Division, whose area of responsibility extends to Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Camiguin and Bukidnon provinces, has about 6,400 Cafgu personnel deployed in far-flung towns and villages.
The Army Division estimates the number of heavily armed NPA rebels at 1,200, operating in 17 guerilla fronts, within its jurisdiction.
Last November 30, four civilians were killed while seven others were injured when suspected rebels ambushed a government ambulance they were riding in Sitio Latay, Barangay Marfil in nearby Rosario town in Agusan del Sur.