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HomeDNX DefenseNotes from the Opposite Side | From Huey to Sikorsky: VISCOM chief...

Notes from the Opposite Side | From Huey to Sikorsky: VISCOM chief visits ‘fightingest brigade’ to say goodbye in nostalgic exit visit

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Editors Note: The writer used to be a full time activist, serving as secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Negros island as part of the Communist collective that ran the day-to-day affairs of Bayan-Negros, Katapatan, Gabriela, Kalikasan, and Bayan Muna.

That collective was a staff organ directly under the Regional Executive Committee of the CPP and led propaganda, alliance, and mobilization works in Bacolod City.

He and Arevalo, then a young lieutenant of the 66th IB, crossed swords several times over traditional media outlets, especially after an encounter in Tayasan, Negros Oriental in the 1990s when the CPP’s Regional Party Committee was raided by 66th IB soldiers while having a plenum.

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Killed in that clash was Bonifacio Pasakan alias Ka Pagat from Escalante City whose body was retrieved by the Bayan-Karapatan fact-finding team led by the writer.

Pagat, largely forgotten by the supposed revolutionary group he once fought for, was one of the many peasants lured into the “noble act” of armed struggle in the countryside and was one of the hundreds of soldiers, rebels and civilians killed in the armed conflict in the island once romanticized as a social volcano waiting to erupt anytime.

Benedict Arevalo arrived on a Sikorsky Blackhawk chopper today, 4 March 2024, landing on the grounds of this camp where he was once brigade commander before he was eventually promoted to head the area command of the Visayas Armed Forces.

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It was on the 16th day, he said, before he retires after 34 years in the uniformed service.

With the rank of lieutenant general.

More than 30 years ago, he was a young lieutenant who was assigned, among other posts, to the 66th Infantry Battalion based in McKinley, a seaside village of Guihulngan, a city in Negros Oriental that served as a launching pad for the recovery of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Negros island.

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Arevalo was assigned in the vortex of the Negros insurgency that was able to recover from an internecine split that left the so-called ‘Reaffirmists’ to a skeletal force with only a platoon of fighters led by Bebren Gotdoncillo alias Ka Dandan escorting what was then the Probisyunal Komiteng Tagpatuman (PKT or Provisional Executive Committee) of the CPP led by Frank Fernandez, a former priest who was redeployed from the national leadership of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to head recovery efforts in Negros island.

The “Reafformists” were supporters of exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison ss opposed to the “Rejectionists” headed by now Abang Lingkod Rep. Stephen Paduano who broke off from the CPP with hundreds of Red fighters in Negros to form the Revolutionary Proletarian Army.

The 1990s saw the transfer of what was then called the Counterinsurgency Operations or COIN to the National Police.

In Negros, it was in the form of the Negros Island Police Task Force led by now dead former Police General Dionisio Ventura that headed the campaign with the Special Action Force as the combat backbone.

The 1990s, however, saw a resurgence of the Communists who were able to regain their political influence and exploited the issues of supposed environmental destruction, human rights violations, corruption, and various “anti people issues.”

They were also able to enter the bureaucracy through the partylist system in 2001 and by that year, Frank Fernandez declared in a plenum in their mountain stronghold of Umas in Sipalay City that the Rectification Movement in Negros had been “completed” and the Party was on the brink of a “strategic stalemate” – a goobledygook of Joma as part of his imagined armed stages in his imagined Protracted People’s War.

Stalemate simply meant the government’s armed force and that of the rebels are already on equal footing that will pave the way for the last and final stage: the counteroffensive that they, the Communists deluded themselves into believing, will lead to their victory.

It was not known what happened to Ka Dandan but Fernandez and his wife, Cleofe Lagtapon, also a Communist official, were captured during Arevalo’s watch as brigade chief, and are now in prison.

It was in this island where Arevalo arrived to face a then relatively stronger movement whose tentacles, like a criminal syndicate, ran deep in the mass media, the Church, and even in the bureaucracy.

“I reserved the best for last,” Arevalo said in his speech after the awarding of medals to battalion commanders of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, led by Brigadier General Orlando Edralin, and to soldiers who showed bravery in combat.

Before his exit visit to the 303rd, Arevalo went around the country to visit Army camps of units where he was once assigned.

Arevalo described the 303rd as the “fightingest” brigade under the Visayas Command, and Camp Gerona as a, place “full of memories” about his late son who once made it his playground.

It was also in Camp Major Nelson Gerona, named after a dead civil military officer, where Arevalo oversaw the capture of the Fernandezes and other ranking leaders of the CPP in Negros.

It can be said that Arevalo can serve as a signpost of the war against Communist insurrection – from its resurgence and revitalization in the 1990s to its weakening in the first twp decades in the 21st century to what it is now, a shriveled armed and political force, an empty shell of a movement that once deluded itself it can become a bastion of Communism in Southeast Asia.

Some observers note that Arevalo’s 34 years fall almost exactly in that period of the Communist resurgence to almost complete defeat.

As he prepares to leave the Army, Arevalo notes with a sense of pride that the Visayas Command has been recognized as a top area command in terms of engagements initiated by government.

Arevalo handles Armed Forces units in all Visayas islands that includes two divisions of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Intelligence units, all composed of thousands of men.

Negros Occidental province had recently been placed under the Stable Internal Peace and Order and Security or SIPS status, but Arevalo agrees with observations that the more dangerous phase had just arrived as areas cleared of insurgents become more “critical.”

I will not say we are insurgency free, there will be remnants, he told the local press as he pointed out that overconfidence will become an enemy in the new counterinsurgency phase.

The Army had earlier claimed five guerrilla fronts – the North Negros, Southwest, Central Negros 1 and 2,and Southeast – have all been dismantled.

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Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.
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