DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 November) – Government troops assigned in Marawi City might be deployed to areas in Mindanao beset by the communist-led insurgency now that military operations against the remnants of the ISIS-inspired Maute Group are “winding down”, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero said.
Guerrero, speaking during the turnover of command at the Eastern Mindanao Command on Wednesday, noted that the New People’s Army (NPA) is active in the boundaries shared by Davao City, Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur and North Cotabato.
He said the AFP is forming eight new battalions that will be deployed in several parts of the country. Two battalions will be assigned in Mindanao.
He said the AFP earlier deployed the 88th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Bukidnon and 89th IB in Davao.
He added the focus of military operations in Mindanao will be Davao Region and Western Mindanao.
On the threat of terrorism, Guerrero said they will continue the clearing operations in Marawi to capture the remnants of the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group who occupied the country’s lone Islamic city and engaged government forces for five months.
“The mopping-up operations [in Marawi] are about to be completed. We are still doing the post-conflict assessment together with the other agencies. We continue to clear the area and recovering the cadavers and materials that were left,” he said.
Guerrero, who served as Eastmincom chief prior to his appointment as AFP chief of staff, said they will focus in areas in Southwestern Mindanao and Basilan and Sulu.
Basilan and Sulu are the strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf whose leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called emir of the ISIS in Southeast Asia, was killed along with Omar Maute in Marawi last October 16.
Local peace talks
During the turnover newly-installed Eastmincom commander Lt. General Benjamin R. Madrigal said they welcome efforts by the city government of Davao to initiate local peace talks with the NPA.
“The peace negotiation is an initiative of our political leaders. Of course, we welcome all efforts to resolve (armed conflicts) peacefully. This will depend on the direction of our national leaders and our political leaders,” Madrigal, who replaced acting commander Brig. Gen. Perfecto Rimando Jr., told reporters.
He said the community must also actively participate in the local peace talks to ensure its success.
Guerrero also expressed support to the initiative but maintained that the military would not lower down its guard against security threats.
Members of the Davao Peace Committee created by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio convened for the first time last October 24 in preparation for the possible holding of local peace talks.
But in a statement Thursday, the Communist Party of the Philippines said it is rejecting the local peace negotiations being pushed by Mayor Duterte-Carpio.
The CPP said the local peace talks “will surely fail in its aim of dividing the revolutionary forces waging a nationwide people’s war. The Duterte regime is wasting time and the people’s money in setting-up these useless local peace committees which will go nowhere and achieve nothing.”
“These are mere rehashes of worn-out psywar surrender programs such as the “balik-baril program” and the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) riding on the popular clamor for peace talks,” it said.
It said the CPP and NPA support the National Democratic Front “in its representation of all revolutionary forces in negotiations with the GRP with the aim of forging agreements to settle the outstanding socio-economic and political questions that compel the people to wage armed struggle.”
“By pushing for local peace talks and enticing the surrender of NPA fighters with silly incentives, Duterte reveals himself to have a very shallow appreciation of the profound social problems which are at the root of the raging civil war in the Philippines,” it added.
The only time that the NDF agreed to local peace talks was during the time of President Corazon C. Aquino. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)