DENOUNCING TERROR. Some of the 20 mass supporters of the New People's Army (NPA) in Burauen, Leyte, who surrendered to the Philippine Army, sign a document denouncing the terrorist group on June 28, 2019. They also took an oath that they will no longer support the rebels by any means. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army 78th Infantry Battalion)

TACLOBAN CITY — Even with the surrender of more than 1,700 members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the past two years, it is still a long way to go to end the insurgency in Eastern Visayas region (Region 8), a top military official said on Tuesday.

Philippine Army 8th Infantry Division (ID) Commander Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio said various government agencies should step up the delivery of basic services for vulnerable communities to reject the communist insurgents’ ideology.

“There is much progress in conflict-stricken areas with almost all of their leaders have surrendered or died in encounters, but the problem remains since their recruitment efforts are non-stop. We need to have poverty infrastructure so that communities will completely reject them,” Farnacio said.

Since the official assumed the post as commander of Samar-based 8th ID in late 2016, the military managed to contain the armed rebellion using meager resources.

“NPA members are almost gone in Leyte due to development efforts both by the national and local governments, but in Samar provinces, insurgency remains. Samar is their last frontier due to thick forest and high poverty incidence,” Farnacio told reporters here.

The official noted that people in Leyte’s upland communities are more inclined to provide intelligence reports to the army, leading to the discovery of camps, interruption of recruitment efforts, and arrest of NPA leaders.

“It’s not mission accomplished, but we’re able to enjoin other agencies to support our anti-insurgency program. We expect other agencies to go upland to bring government services closer to vulnerable communities,” he added.

According to the latest military report, the communist terrorist group has 336 active armed members in the region with 558 firearms. The NPA has affected 31 villages, a small fraction of the region’s 4,390 villages.

From January 1 to June 25 this year, armed rebels initiated 12 attacks and 357 activities such as meetings and recruitments.

About 80 percent of armed NPA members are in Samar provinces, said Farnacio, who will be formally retiring from military service on Friday.

The NPA launched its first tactical operation in the country in Calbiga, Samar in 1974, when its members ambushed an Army scout patrol and seized a number of weapons.

In 1976, the NPA gained popular support among the inhabitants of Samar following its actions against cattle-rustling gangs.

The official revealed that some NPA fighters based in Mindanao transferred to Samar due to augmentation of the government’s armed forces in the southern Philippines as a result of the martial law declaration there.

Farnacio is optimistic that the insurgency will completely be resolved within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte if all concerned government agencies will participate in the Philippine Army’s community support program (CSP).

The CSP has reached out to at least 100 remote villages in the Eastern Visayas region in the first semester of 2019.

The CSP deployments are meant to facilitate the government’s development programs by hearing the issues and concerns of villagers and bring this to the attention of concerned government offices.

The CPP-NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The formation of the regional task force operationalizes Executive Order 70 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 4, 2018. The directive also institutionalizes a “whole-of-nation approach” in attaining an “inclusive and sustainable peace.”

Patterned after the national task force, the regional body is composed of heads of local offices of the departments of the interior and local government, justice, defense, public works, budget, finance, agrarian reform, social welfare, and education, as well as the military, police and local communication office.

Also listed as task force members are regional or provincial heads of the National Economic and Development Authority, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, as well as two representatives of the private sector. (PNA)