Army head relieved after Albay airport attack

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Photo courtesy: Albay Provincial Gov't
Photo courtesy: Albay Provincial Gov't

By Joey Natividad
Special Correspondent

LEGAZPI CITY, Albay (BicolToday.com/26-May-12) – The commanding officer of 901st Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army, was relieved of his post and assigned to Basilan, Mindanao, six (6) days after the May 18 airport attack by New People’s Army rebels.

9th Infantry Division Major-General Josue S. Gaverza on Thursday (May 24) relieved 901st Brigade Commander Colonel Arthur P. Ang and assigned Colonel Ricardo R. Visaya to take his place. The turn-over ceremony was held at the Army headquarters at Villahermosa, Daraga, Albay, which is about 1.5 kilometers from the airport site where the rebels launched their attack Friday.

The NPA rebels burned down 11 heavy equipment, worth Php76.5 million, and wounded by harassment fire two government troopers of the Barangay Alobo 12-man Army detachment guarding the airport construction site. About a platoon of rebels was involved in the airport raid.

Burned at the construction site were 4 bulldozers at Php1.6m each, 2 payloaders at P8.5m each, 1 pison (road roller) at P3.5m, 1 backhoe at P8.5m, 2 articulated equipment at P16.5m each, and 1 grader at P8.5m each.

The Friday airport raid was “pooh-poohed” by Albay Governor Joey Salceda as “temporary and minor setback” as he disclosed Saturday that Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Mar Roxas has pumped in an additional Php 2 Billion to finish the Southern Luzon International Airport (SLIA) which is still under construction. Airport project completion is targeted on end of 2014.

Incoming 901st Brigade Commander Colonel Visaya used to head the 104th Brigade of the 1st ID in Mindanao. He belongs to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1983, and hails from Ilocos Norte. He is former commander of the Civil Military Operation Battalion at the National Capital Region.

9th ID spokesman Major Angelo Guzman said Colonel Ang was formerly assigned at Basilan before being transferred to Albay on October, 2010. “Ang’s reassignment back to Basilan is part of AFP’s regular rotation of assignments among officers,” he said.
The rebel attack was believed to divert ongoing military operations in nearby Sorsogon province. Sources said the burning of the heavy equipment was “sanction” for refusal by Sunwest Corporation, the airport contractor, to pay “revolutionary taxes” demanded by the rebel group. So far, the rebel group has not issued any official statement regarding the airport attack.

Governor Salceda on Saturday said, right after the Friday airport raid, “The international airport is critical to the achievement of 650,000 foreign tourists in Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate by 2016. In the short-term, with Legazpi airport, now being served by 11 flights, it is critical to avoid the 22% cancellation rate in 2011 due to bad weather, while the existing Legazpi airport could not be fitted with ILS due to its location while sundown restriction curtails flight options.”

He disclosed that DOTC Sec. Roxas has approved last week the realignment of P2 B of the unspent P8.5 B PPP fund in 2011 to accelerate the SLIA development. Another P2 B is expected to be budgeted in 2013 to allow the completion of the airport by end-2014. [BicolToday.com]

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