AFP troops still present in Bicol’s remote barangays despite ceasefire period

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Barangay Hall of Catanusan needs renovation. BicolToday Photo
Students from Brgy. Catanusan crossing bridge as part of their daily routine. BicolToday.com Photo
Students from Brgy. Catanusan crossing bridge as part of their daily routine. BicolToday.com Photo

By Reynard Magtoto

SORSOGON CITY 26Aug2016 (BicolToday.com) – “I hope that the peace talks will be successful so that there will be no more conflict, no more bloodshed,” said Catanusan Brgy. Captain Martin Fulay adding that the residents in the village are also affected in the armed conflict.

The peace talks are good for the village so that people will no longer be afraid according to Brgy. Captain Fulay.

Fulay confirmed that military presence in Brgy. Catanusan is still visible since last week of July. The interior barangay is part of Juban municipality in Sorsogon which was identified as among the conflict-affected communities that suffer from the effects of armed conflict between government security forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bicol.

Feared to be threatened by the AFP troops, Fulay did not disclose the interaction between the AFP troops and the residents in his barangay. He just wanted the Peace Talks to be successful.

According to the report of Karapatan-Sorsogon, the AFP troops in Barangay Catanusan are members of 31st Infantry Battalion of Philippine Army (IBPA) and currently basing in Zone 4 at Romeo Dellosa’s residence, Wilfredo Grayda’s residence and Brgy. Councilor Ruben Forton jr.

The rights group in Sorsogon added that they received complaints from the residents and their spokesperson, Hermie Forton, is under the surveillance of the AFP troops.

Despite the ceasefire period, military presence and camping in Barangays are still visible in Sorsogon province. Five municipalities in the province recorded military deployment in its barangays. These include Brgy. Balocawe and Sinebaran in Matnog, Brgy. San Ramon in Barcelona, Brgy. Payawin and Sangat in municipality of Gubat, and even in Bacon District.

Aside from Sorsogon, Municipality of Ragay in Camarines Sur recorded military presence in Brgy. Cabadisan.

“Back to Barracks”

Upon the recommendation of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) unilaterally declared to all commands and units of the NPA and the people’s militia a ceasefire from 12:01 a.m. of August 21, 2016 to 11:59 p.m. of August 27, 2016 to celebrate and bolster the formal resumption of peace talks in Oslo, Norway between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

Official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed that their troops were recalled from their combat operations, a day after the unilateral ceasefire declaration of CPP-NDFP-NPA.

Based on reports, Philippine Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said that all combat operations have been cancelled and their troops are going back to the barracks.

“Some field units are still on their way [to barracks],” Hao stated. “But definitely we no longer have ongoing combat operations.”

According to Hao, the military will continue routine law enforcement operations and patrols to ensure the safety of its bases and the community since there was no instruction for them to pullout from the communities.

Even the Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) against the CPP-NPA-NDF reiterated that AFP troops shall remain in communities, “Commanders must clearly understand the strategic implications of any action so as not to jeopardize the implementation of the SOMO and more importantly the realization of the president’s intent for a lasting peace agreement with the CPP-NPA-NDF”.

For Karapatan in Bicol region, this means that militarization and harassment still continues in six provinces despite the declaration. “Combat units of the AFP have remained active in communities throughout Bicol especially in Sorsogon and Camarines Sur to wage armed offensives,” rights group stated.

Karapatan in the region closely monitors any human rights violations during the ceasefire period.

Barangay Hall of Catanusan needs renovation. BicolToday Photo
Barangay Hall of Catanusan needs renovation. BicolToday Photo

“Remain on defensive mode”

During the ceasefire period, “all NPA units and the people’s militias shall remain on defensive mode at both the strategic and tactical levels. They shall nonetheless maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against any hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces with the aim of encirclement and suppression,” the Central Committee of CPP and the National Operational Command of NPA stated.

They added in a statement that all leading organs and branches of the CPP, commands and units of the NPA and people’s militias and revolutionary mass organizations shall closely monitor any hostile actions, provocations or movements being carried out by the enemy armed forces. Such information should be reported to the concerned commands of the New People’s Army and leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the AFP to avoid hostile actions or going into antagonistic behavior against communist insurgents as he joined CPP-NDF-NPA in seeking peace for the country. Just recently, Duterte asked the people in government and all security forces to be friendly with the forces of the revolutionary group and the CPP in the meantime that there is a ceasefire.

“We cannot be at war at all times,” Duterte expressed regret that so many lives on both sides were lost in the 45-year struggle for ideology yet they could end up on the peace table.

Duterte emphasized that as president his main task is to seek peace for his country. “I am not a president who would enjoy waging war against citizens of this republic. It pains me to see people dying for an ideology,” He said. “Pwede naman pala mapag-usapan ng mapayapa, just like now.”

According to CPP, they are also open to discuss the possibility of a longer ceasefire upon completion of the release of all political prisoners to further bolster peace negotiations. [BicolToday.com]

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