NEW Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. has vowed to focus military resources on neutralizing communist rebels “who insist on seizing political power through armed struggle.”
Santos issued the statement on Saturday shortly after assuming command of the 190,000-strong military at the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. He replaced now retired Gen. Noel Clement.
Also on Saturday, or three days before the end of Yuletide ceasefires declared by the communists and the government, the communist rebels killed a tribal leader in Bukidnon.
The military said the slain leader was opposed to recruitment activities being conducted by the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Santos, at the turnover rites on Saturday, noted President Duterte has issued Executive Order No. 70 in December 2018, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and institutionalized a whole of nation approach in achieving peace.
“This multi-pronged approach addresses the motivation for insurgency,” said Santos at the change-of-command ceremony president by Duterte.
Santos, a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1986, is the seventh AFP chief to serve under the Duterte administration.
He noted the government has also provided livelihood training and even housing to rebels who surrender.
Santos said he has seen the success of EO 70 as the commander of the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City. He said the measure led to the surrender of about 1,200 communist rebels and supporters in eastern Mindanao last year.
“Thus, the Armed Forces of the Philippines can now focus its resources, manpower, and firepower on the remaining communist terrorist armed group who insist on not giving up the armed struggle in spite of the goodwill shown to them by the administration,” said Santos.
“We will immediately neutralize those who insist on seizing political power through armed struggle,” added Santos.
In the military parlance, “neutralize” means the killing, capture, arrest, or causing the surrender of an enemy.
In an interview later, Santos said the end of insurgency problem may not come during his term. Santos is due to reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 in August this year.
“Not within my term, within the term of the President (in June 2022). We will end that before the end of the president’s term,” said Santos. Military estimates placed the NPA strength at about 3,500 men.
Santos said the military, under his watch, will remain pro-active in the campaign against terrorist groups, including the Abu Sayyaf who is known for bombings, kidnappings and beheading.
“We shall effectively counter their narratives through good governance, build community trust and earn the people’s respect,” said Santos.
Santos said the military needs the vigilance, support, and cooperation of the populace “to suppress and prevent any future terrorist plans from occurring and avoiding the unnecessary loss of human lives and damage to property.”
“The AFP should always be battle-ready to counteract any threat that confronts our desire for peace,” he added.
In Bukidnon, the military identified the slain tribal leader as Sammy Diwangan, 45, a datu from the Umayamnon tribe. He was shot in the forehead and different parts of the body, said 1Lt. Ken Cabbigat, civil military operation officer of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion.
Cabbigat described Diwangan as a “strong leader in his community and he is against the NPA infiltration and recruitment.”
Cabbigat said Diwangan’s nine-year-old son, John, was able to flee when they were accosted by four rebels from the NPA’s Guerilla Front Malayag, in Barangay Canangaan at around 9:15 a.m. on Saturday.
Cabbigat said an NPA commander, identified only as Cardo who recently surrendered to the military, said the communist movement wanted Diwangan dead because he was hindering efforts to expand the NPA in Barangay Canangaan.
Cabbigat also said the 8th IB has been strictly abiding by the unilateral ceasefire, separately declared by the government and communists from December 23 to January 7, for the Christmas season.
“But the members of NPA are taking advantage of it to execute their plans to neutralize their target personalities,” said Cabbigat.