A daily average of one encounter between government forces and communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in eastern Mindanao has been noted over the last 2 months, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Balabad.
Balabad also added that 2 daily armed encounters have also been reported during the last ten days in eastern Mindanao which covers the Caraga Region, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Davao Region and the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani in Region 12.
The latest was the fierce gun battle involving elements of the Philippine Army’ 27th Infantry Battalion who clashed with some 40 NPA rebels in Barangay Nomoh in Maasim, Sarangani Wednesday morning.
Three NPA rebels were killed while 11 high power firearms were recovered by government forces.
It was the second clash between the same platoon of the Philippine Army led by Lt. Bryan Bacaling who also engaged the NPA rebels in a running gunbattle Tuesday.
The slain NPA rebels were identified as Rendel Ryan Cagula, reportedly a resident of Bago Gallera in Davao City; Johnny Camag of Magsaysay in Davao del Sur; and Fredi Ayog of Islome in Maasim.
Lt. Gen Baladad said 53 percent of the 4,600 NPAs throughout the country are in Mindanao with the eastern part of the island – particularly in Caraga and Davao regions – hosting the most number of NPA guerrilla fronts and armed regulars.
The Eastmincom chief said eastern Mindanao alone has 1,996 fully armed rebels “as of the third quarter of this year.”
Baladad also disclosed that there are 33 NPA guerrilla fronts under his area of responsibility.
He however said the AFP has emerged victorious in most of the armed clashes between government forces and the NPA rebels.
Jorge Madlos, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, claimed they have established 49 guerrilla fronts in Mindanao.
Balabad said the respite of fighting between the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has enabled the AFP to reposition their forces and focus on dismantling the guerilla fronts of the NPA.
The Philippine government and the MILF signed a peace agreement in October last year.
Balabad has two Army divisions under his command the 10th Infantry Division (ID) stationed in Mawab, Compostela and the 4th ID in Cagayan de Oro City.
Meanwhile, Philippine Army commanding officer Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri conferred the military merit medal to the members of the platoon under Lt. Bacaling for neutralizing the NPAs.
Iriberri, who hails from Surigao City where the NPAs in Mindanao area their strongest, said proper training, community support and superior intelligence were keys to the recent success of the AFP against the communist rebels.
Cash rewards were also given to the 1002nd Brigade and the 27th and 73rd infantry battalions for recovering a total of 21 high powered firearms in less than a month of operations against the rebels.
Iriberri said they are aiming to reduce the NPAs into irrelevance by 2016.