The battle for Central Negros rages on, on the ground and in cyberspace.
The New People’s Army recently claimed that its military offensives in Central Negros in January resulted to the death of not less than 23 soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion in Guihulngan City alone.
However, aside from one member of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) who was liquidated by the NPA on January 6, not a single soldier was killed or seriously wounded or injured.
Before 5 in the morning of January 19, the NPA attacked a group of soldiers near the barangay hall of Brgy. Tacpao in Guihulngan City. “Ni-reyd ng mga kasama ang [Peace and Development Team of 94th Infantry Battalion] sa barangay hall at Day Care Center ng Tacpao gamit ang mga command-detonated na explosibo (CDX). … Namatay sa naturang reyd ang 12 sundalo”, Ang Bayan, the official publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines, reported in its January 21, 2019 issue. Such a slaughter would obviously have been difficult to hide from the local residents.
What actually happened was that the attackers fled after a brief firefight, leaving behind several rounds of assorted ammunition, a pistol, three caps, and bloodstains. Three NPA members were wounded according to 19-year old Efren Canumay who participated in the attack but later surrendered to the troops. The Leonardo Panaligan Command (NPA Central Negros) not surprisingly denied having Efren in their roster and also denied recruiting minors. Efren joined the NPA when he was 17.
That the NPA recruits minors is old news. No amount of denial by JB Regalado, the spokesperson of the NPA in Central Negros, can take away the fact that the NPA recruits minors, sometimes as young as 15. Didn’t the NPA take great pride in having more than 100 youth, including students, parade in a remote corner of Guihulngan City in connection with the recent 50th founding anniversary of the CPP?
The CPP-NPA is increasingly experiencing problems getting its propaganda and narrative out to the public as its social media accounts and websites have been under attack lately. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines on December 26 complained that “alternative media outfits Bulatlat and Kodao … were taken down almost simultaneously. That these assaults on freedom of the press and of free expression took place on the 50th founding anniversary of the CPP is clearly no coincidence.” Obviously, as the CPP-NPA-NDFP’s website www.philippinerevolution.info became inaccessible too.
Facebook accounts of the NPA in Negros have less if any activity with other accounts taking over the posting of updates. Fake accounts, some using the names and photos of the NPA accounts, have emerged posting anti-NPA comments, photos and memes on Facebook walls of the CPP-NPA, allied organizations and individuals.
Kodao Productions that featured CPP’s 50th anniversary in Bicol, in 2016 covered the anniversary with the NPA in Central Negros. On that occasion, Juanito Magbanua of the NPA’s Apolinario Gatmaitan (Negros) Command told Kodao that the gathering was the “largest event” the NPA in Negros had “ever hosted.” Magbanua bragged that more guerrilla fronts were being developed. And true enough, the Mt. Cansermon Command was activated sometime late 2017, becoming the fifth NPA command in Negros.
In December 2016 President Rodrigo Duterte’s ceasefire was still in force. Troops were being pulled out of Negros. But the situation is different today with soldiers again being deployed in Negros – 220 additional a few days ago – and the Duterte Administration no longer having intentions of giving political or military concessions to the CPP. The plan last year for a stand-down agreement (to have taken effect June 21 2018) seems to have been the last hoorah of those who, despite all the evidence of the CPP-NPA-NDFP’s real intentions and lack of sincerity, still believed in formal peace talks.
The government is luring both regular NPA members and its mass base to abandon the communist cause and avail of the programs offered to rebel returnees. In Bohol, 77 CPP-NPA supporters “surrendered” last year to avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) jointly offered by the provincial and national governments. The number of surrenderees – mass base and combatants – in Negros Island in 2018 was a modest 19 (The Daily Guardian, February 8, 2019). However, as the government intensifies its anti-insurgency campaign in Negros – militarily, propaganda-wise and through civil-military initiatives – more NPA mass base and fighters are likely to see the wisdom of surrendering.
A government that fails to address the needs and concerns of the people is usually the biggest recruiter for insurgent movements. However, while the communists often raise valid points against the government, armed attacks on soldiers only make life more miserable for the local population. Furthermore, untrue claims of losses inflicted on government troops have the CPP-NPA look like just another purveyor of fake news.