File photo by Geoff Delahaye

The city government has declared Puerto Princesa City as a “zone of peace”, but stopped short of making a formal declaration of the capital being “insurgency free” as earlier made by the provincial government for the rest of the province.

The City Council resolution passed on Monday declared Puerto Princesa City as a “Zone of Peace and Development” (ZOPAD). This was preceded by deliberations among city councilors on the recommendation of local AFP and police authorities to declare the city “insurgency free”.

Councilor Elgin Damasco, who objected to the proposal, argued that a mere resolution will not prevent the New People’s Army (NPA) from continuing to operate around the city’s jurisdiction.

The provincial government earlier declared Palawan as insurgency-free, with the local Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF ELCAC) justifying it based on the supposed collapse of the Bienvenido Vallever Command (BVC), the subregional military branch of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Palawan.

In Monday’s briefing before the City Council, Puerto Princesa City Police Office (PPCPO) Deputy Director for Operations P/Lt. Col. Arvin Peniones presented accomplishments made in Puerto Princesa that led to the dismantling of the Sub Regional Military Area-4E, Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee (SRMA-4E), which reportedly operates under the BVC.

The disintegration of the NPA’s operating units in the city was also certified by a resolution issued by the joint AFP-PNP Area Clearing Evaluation Team on December 5, 2022, followed by the city’s declaration as insurgency-free.

Peniones said that the declaration was made after all necessary requirements were met, including the surrender and capture or neutralization of the SRMA-4E leaders and members, validation by a joint AFP-PNP intelligence committee, and completion of documentary requirements, among others.

He further indicated that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is expected to make the formal pronouncement by the end of April.

Additionally, he stated that on December 21, 2022, the City Peace and Order Council presented a recommendation for the approval of a city council resolution for the dismantling of the rebel group and the designation of Puerto Princesa as insurgency-free.

Damasco, however, objected to the passage of the resolution saying it is the AFP and the PNP who are the right agencies to make such declarations. He instead proposed the passage of a resolution declaring the city a zone of peace and development which was agreed upon by the councilors.

“I think it is the AFP and the PNP are the ones who can declare Puerto Princesa as insurgency free and not the city council. For me, I am not in favor of passing a resolution declaring the city of Puerto Princesa as insurgency free just like my objection before in declaring the insurgents as persona non grata because they cannot be prevented by just a piece of paper if they really want to come here,” he stated.

The insurgency-free declaration was made by the Provincial Peace and Order Council and the Provincial Task Force ELCAC in December last year, citing the neutralization and capture or surrender of the NPA’s high ranking leaders and the absence of atrocities perpetrated by the group for over a year in the province.