No More NPA Rebels in Bohol

The communist insurgency in Bohol has been crushed, making it as the first province in the country to meet the deadline set by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo before she steps down in June 2010, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

The deadline is to defeat the left-leaning New People's Army (NPA).

The declaration was made by Bohol Governor Erico B. Aumentado and Col. Allan Luga, commander of the 802nd Brigade of the Philippine Army based on the island province some 600 kilometers south of Manila.

OPAPP said Aumentado made the announcement during a meeting at the Bohol Tropics Resort last Tuesday.

The session was attended by a delegation from Columbia's Office of the High Commissioner for Peace led by Alejandro Eder, political advisor of the Office of the High Presidential Counselor for Reintegration.

Other members of the Columbian delegation were Miguel Suarez, Ms. Maria Lucia Uepigue and Ms. Andrea Salazar.

While in Bohol, they interviewed former rebels and local officials from the towns of Danao, Sagbayan and Carmen where they were briefed on the Social Integration Program (SIP) of the government being implemented by the OPAPP under Secretary Annabelle T. Abaya.

They were also given an overview of the Philippine experience in containing insurgency through its highly-tested clear-hold-consolidate and develop strategy.

When Aumentado was elected governor in 2001, he ordered a sustained development effort, particularly in the countryside to bring the government closer to the people.

With the help of the military and police in clearing rebel-infested areas, the program proved to be a very successful strategy that eventually broke the backbone of the NPA operating in the province.

The national government, through OPAPP, activated the SIP, ensuring rebel returnees of livelihood.

A rebel who surrenders will be granted P20,000 cash to start a small business for the sustenance of his family.

Under the SIP, a rebel who yields an M16 or M14 rifle will be given P50,000 and another P50,000 in kind such as water buffalo, hand tractor, tricycle or the like if a returnee qualifies after undergoing skills training conducted by government agencies.

Luga also briefed the Columbian visitors on how the communist movement had grown in the province of Bohol in the early 1980s and how it was crushed over a nine-year anti-insurgency drive launched in 2001 using the clear-hold-consolidate and develop strategy.

From a high of 436 rebels operating in Bohol in 2001, the NPA strength was down to zero at the end of October 2009.

"There are no more armed NPA rebels in Bohol. We have not monitored any rebel movement either," Luga said.

He also said that all the 115 barangays under the influence of the NPA in 2001 have been cleared.

Aside from conducting security operations, the military also helped in the construction of 24 school buildings in far-flung areas in Bohol that enabled thousands of children to go to school.

Luga cited the program of Aumentado that focused on the eradication of poverty incidence in the province.

"Poverty incidence was lowered from 53.6 percent to 23.2 percent in a matter of five years and continues to improve," Luga said in his briefing.

"Bohol's success story on counterinsurgency is attributed to sincere and good governance and the strong political will of Boholano leaders to curb poverty," he said.

Luga likewise cited that the booming tourism industry in Bohol "is also attributed to good governance and the improving peace/security situation in the province."

Another big factor that helped the government crush the communist insurgency in the province was the activation of the Bohol Local Integrated Security System (BLISS) and social integration grants ordered by Aumentado to "negate enemy resurgence in the province," he added.

"There is definitely no military solution to an insurgency. The key is the partnership of the local government and other stakeholders," Luga said.

Terminating hostilities with rebel groups is one of the "Beat the Odds" program enunciated by President Arroyo before she steps down in office in 2010.

The others are balanced the budget, education for all, automated elections, transportation and digital infrastructure, heal the wounds of EDSA I, II and III, electricity and water for all, opportunities for livelihood and ten million jobs, decongestion of Metro Manila and develop Subic and Clark.

The "Lambat Bitag" counter-insurgency program launched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shortly after the 1986 EDSA revolt, dealt a heavy blow to the NPA.

From a peak of 25,800 in 1986, the NPA strength was down to less than 5,000 at the end of June 2009.

The decline of the NPA in Bohol started when Epitacio Ramirez, alias Commander Vargas, surrendered in 2002 after 27 years in the communist movement.

Some 200 followers of Vargas followed suit and also returned to the fold of law over a seven-year period, dwindling the NPA fighters operating in the province.

The Bohol provincial government also gave a resettlement area for former rebels in addition to the various livelihood programs. (PNA)