BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The newly-appointed commander of the Armed Forces Visayas Command sees strategic victory on the horizon against Communist rebels who have been whittled down to only a few guerrilla fronts compared to their peak strength in the 90s.
“I have been telling our troops to not be complacent despite the gains we have made,” Lieutenant General Benedict Arevalo told DNX on his assessment of the insurgency in the Visayas area covered by the Armed Forces Visayas Command he now leads.
Arevalo, who started his career in Negros island as a lieutenant, described the current strength of the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that had been waging a rebellion for more than 50 years against the government, as “10 times weaker” than in thr 1990s when the “Sisonites” seem to have regained strength.
The CPP, founded by Jose Maria Sison who died in self-exile in The Netherlands last year, launched a campaign to recover lost bases in the 1990s after a bulk of its armed guerrillas joined a breakaway faction called then as the Revolutionary Proletarian Army.
Those loyal to Sison called themselves “Reaffirmists” based on the document “Reaffirm our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors” which became the basis for its “Second Great Rectification Movement” or Kahublagan Panadlong in Hiligaynon.
Arevalo added of all the islands under the Visayas Command, Samar has the largest number of “guerrilla fronts” or areas the NPA claims it maintains influence.
State-run Philippine News Agency quoted Major General Camilo Ligayo, commander of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division, as having said last year that there are at least four fronts in Samar with 300 armed regulars.
He added, however, according to the report that “these remaining fronts have been weakened in the past few years due to the surrender of active fighters and withdrawal of support from villagers.”
*One is too many” when we talk of the insurgency, Arevalo said as he pointed out that he had been stressing to field units and commanders that the number of armed guerrillas must be brought down “to as little as possible” for the government to win the war.
Arevalo now commands two Army divisions of at least 30,000 rifles, and Air Force and Navy units.
He also said combat operations will continue to be conducted by the Armed Forces as development works are expected to come in to rural areas under the Barangay Development Program of the National Task Force-End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
The NTF-ELCAC, which adopts a Whole-of-Nation-approach to the Communist rebellion was started under the previous government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.