Military downplays NPA strength; wary of armed Moro clans’ presence in Cotabato

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/ 9 December) –Besides the security threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Cotabato province, the military is also closely monitoring several alleged Islamic State-inspired armed Moro clans operating in the area, officials said Monday.

Col. Arnold Bernardo, deputy commander of the 901st Infantry Brigade based in Magpet town, claimed the communist rebels “have been weakened and are losing their clout” among their masa or sympathizers with the recent arrests of their two top leaders.

In September, he said that authorities arrested in Matalam town Commander Alon, NPA Front 53 finance officer, and Commander Karla, a “white area” leader, last month here.

White area or the “legal front” refers to those who are often involved in street protests or indignation rallies to malign the government.

Citing their assessment, Bernardo claimed “the NPA rebels have a declining strength in terms of the number of combatants and their firearms.”

“Hundreds of their mass supporters, including their top leaders, have already surrendered to us, so in terms of strength, they are no longer gaining ground,” Bernardo told the City Peace and Order Council (CPOC) meeting here.

He did not give actual figures on those who surrendered and the NPA rebels still actively operating in the 901st Brigade’s jurisdiction, which includes parts of Bukidnon and Marilog District in Davao City.

Aside from threats coming from the NPA, Col. Rey Alvarado, commander of the Army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion, said they are also closely watching the presence of some armed Moro clans with possible links to the Islamic State.

“We have been monitoring the movement of these Moro clans whom we perceived as armed and dangerous.   Some of them have been spotted in our area of responsibility,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado, however, refused to identify these clans to avoid bungling the military’s surveillance activity.

Based on army reports, these clans are involved in kidnapping, extortion and bombings.

Alvarado was also present during the CPOC meeting chaired by Mayor Joseph Evangelista.