CITY OF DUMAGUETE – A senior Philippine military official said on Wednesday that the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-ELCAC) would be a huge setback for the government’s efforts to crush the ongoing insurgency for decades in the island of Negros and other parts of the country.
In an interview with the Philippine News Agency, Brig. General Leonardo PeÃ±a, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, said abolishing NTF-ELCAC would be detrimental to the fight against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA -NDF) amid the government’s gains and achievements in recent years.
PeÃ±a was reacting to information from Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo by saying that she would abolish President Rodrigo Duterte’s counterinsurgency task force if she was elected president in the May 9, 2022 elections.
Robredo said she would instead push for a “conducive environment” for peace talks with the insurgents and eliminate “militarist” approaches.
PeÃ±a, however, noted that the nation-wide approach of the Duterte administration, embodied in Executive Decree No. 70, does not focus solely on military and combat operations to resolve the internal conflict of the government with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“Even before (the NTF-ELCAC), our problem with the insurgency is not only with the armed elements of the CPP-NPA-NDF, but we have seen that it is deeply rooted in economic (problems) and poverty” , he said in mixed English and Cebuano.
Therefore, the solution to end the insurgency is not just through a military approach “but more good governance and the NTF-ELCAC is a complete replica of good governance because that is where you can find the collaboration of different government agencies across the whole-nation approach, âhe added.
The national approach also requires the community to cooperate and collaborate with the government, the army commander said.
In Negros Oriental, many local leaders are supporting the ELCAC initiative and it would be such a waste of effort if it were abolished, PeÃ±a said.
“We learned from our past experiences with the government’s Oplan Lambat Bitag counterinsurgency strategy during the (Corazon) Aquino and Ramos presidencies, when we were almost on the verge of ending the insurgency,” a- he declared.
However, at the time, the approach was purely militaristic and government agencies, local government units and other sectors were not involved in the sustainability of the development aspect, noted PeÃ±a.
The reason government agencies are now involved in counterinsurgency efforts is due to the strong presence and leadership of the Commander-in-Chief, he added.
“We have a lot of achievements now, not thanks to the military but thanks to the collaboration of the various government agencies, and if the NTF-ELCAC is abolished, I fear that we are back to square one,” said the army commander.
The provincial government of Negros Oriental, headed by Governor Roel Degamo, has provided road networks in areas affected by the insurgency, among others, to complement the efforts of the provincial and local ELCAC working groups, not to mention the local government units and their contributions as well, he noted.
The 302nd Infantry Brigade’s coverage area includes central and southern Negros Oriental, 6th district of Negros Occidental, Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor. (ANP)