Speaking peace, waging war

Chadli Molintas Command
NPA Ilocos-Cordillera Region

Ongoing simultaneous and massive military operations in the Cordillera belie the recent pronouncements by DND Sec. Norberto Gonzales and 5th Infantry Division Commanding Gen. Rommel Gomez that the government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will intensify their peacemaking efforts as part of the final phase of the campaign to defeat the revolutionary armed movement by June 2010. These military operations were valiantly met, countered, and foiled by respective New People's Army provincial operations commands in Abra, Kalinga and Mountain Province, inflicting heavy casualties on AFP units.

The Lejo Cawilan Command, NPA-Kalinga, ambushed at 8:00 AM of 4 February a unit of the 21st Infantry Battalion in Mabaca, Balbalan. Three AFP troopers were killed, two M16 rifles and several hundreds of rounds of ammunition were captured by the NPA. There were no NPA casualties.

The Agustin Begnalen Command, NPA-Abra, launched successive tactical offensives against operating units of the 50th and 41st IB. At 9:00 AM of 31 January, operating troops of A Company, 50th IB were ambushed in Kili, Tubo. A government trooper was killed and two were wounded. At 4:00 PM of the same day, operating troops of the 41st IB were ambushed at the boundary of barangays Lat-ey and Mataragan, Malibcong. Five soldiers were killed and eight others were wounded. At 11:00 PM of 1 February, a second ambush was sprung in Kili, Tubo causing the deaths of five government troopers and the wounding of eight others. At around 4:00 PM of 2 February, another ambush was staged in Lat-ey, Malibcong causing the deaths of nine troopers and 11 wounded. There were no NPA casualties in any of these incidents.

The Leonardo Pacsi Command, NPA-Mountain Province, ambushed at 9:00 AM of 27 January a platoon of the 54th IB in Mt. Bato, Mainit, Bontoc killing six government troopers and wounding four others. An M16 rifle, telescopic sights, and other military paraphernalia were seized by the NPA. Military air and artillery assets pounded the area several hours after the NPA withdrew. The air strikes and artillery barrages that continued over the next few days severely damaged local waterworks, irrigation canals, and ricefields. The NPA suffered no casualties.

Large-scale troop movements by the 21st IB were also observed by NPA intelligence assets along the Kalinga-Mountain Province boundary presumably to provide blocking forces or reinforcements for other beleaguered military units in the area. The timing, scope, and pattern of the military's troop movements are indicative of a division-level operation that may be linked to securing the venue for the upcoming Balikatan 2010 in the region. The 5th Infantry Division is now withholding details from media to hide the rising number of casualties inflicted upon its operating units.

Ironically, when Gen. Gomez was in his hometown in Bontoc, Mountain Province last 21 January to deliver a speech on the military's supposed all-out peace efforts, he and his subordinates were putting the finishing touches to this ambitious operation.

Sec. Norberto Gonzales of the Department of National Defense claimed that the Arroyo government is now in the endgame of its campaign to defeat the revolutionary movement. According to him, this will involve direct "negotiations" with the relatives and allocation of funds for the livelihood of NPA fighters, localized peace talks, and the mobilization of various sectors to advocate peace and development. He obviously meant coercing the families of known and suspected revolutionaries to surrender their relatives, promising money to entice NPA fighters to surrender, and mobilizing all government agencies and right-wing institutions for an all-out propaganda offensive. How he sees these worn out tactics ending a 41-year people's war in the next five months truly defies logic.

Sec. Gonzales and Gen. Gomez speak of peace while at the same time unleashing their armed minions to wreak havoc on the people. This comes as no surprise, especially because the Arroyo regime is known for its rabid use of violence and deception. Large-scale military operations continue in the Cordillera hinterland, helicopters regularly ferry supplies and provide overwatch for AFP commando and regular units, OV10 bombers conduct airstrikes against suspected NPA positions and populated areas.

In the end, these operations are doomed to fail. AFP ground and air units scouring the forests, patrolling villages, and bombing suspected NPA emplacements only incur the ire of the people because of their numerous violations of human rights and the atrocious damage they continue to wreak on livestock, crops and property. They will fail to inflict harm on NPA units that flexibly use guerilla tactics to seize the initiative, dictate the tempo of battle, and vanish from sight.