(File photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte told Palawan mayors in a meeting last week in Malacañang to help fight the New People’s Army (NPA) and if necessary, he will issue them high-powered guns to be at par with the enemies of the state.

Bataraza Mayor Abraham Ibba said except for one, all 22 Palawan mayors were present in the meeting at the palace that also invited the chief executives of the municipalities and provinces in the MIMAROPA (Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) and the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) on February 12-13.

“Lahat kami nandoon, iisa lang ang wala na mayor. Kasama namin ang iba pang mayors ng MIMAROPA at CALABARZON. Ang sabi ni presidente, ‘yon nga ‘yong plano niyang armasan ang mga mayors para labanan ang NPA. Iisyuhan daw kami ng malakas na armas para mapigilan ang mga NPA sa pag-atake,” Ibba told the Palawan News in a phone interview.

He said the firearms will be issued to them based on policies and rules that will be crafted for the purpose by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Ibba did not say when this will happen or come out, but he said President Duterte is firm and unwavering in putting an end to the atrocities of the NPA in the country.

“Iisyuhan kami daw ng armas base pa rin sa polisiya ng DILG. May proseso pa rin na susundin sa pag-isyu ng armas, hindi ‘yong basta-basta isyu lang sa amin. Di pa namin alam kelan mangyayari ‘yon,” he said.

Ibba said the meeting also hinted that Duterte will eventually return the police powers that were stripped by the DILG from 18 mayors and governors in October 2017 due to either alleged drug links or abuse of authority.

He and El Nido mayor Nieves Rosento were among those whose authority over their municipal police forces were removed through an order issued by then DILG officer-in-charge and National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) chairman Catalino Cuy.

Ibba, who had already denied committing any abuse of authority and link to illegal drugs, said the return of his police power is important in what President Duterte wanted the local chief executives to do.

“Ganoon na nga ang mangyayari na baka ibabalik na ang police power namin para maka-participate kami sa peace and order at public safety plan ng maayos. Kung ibabalik na, pasasalamatan natin,” Ibba said.

In the province, the last victim of the NPA was PO3 Rodelph Saldajeno who was killed on January 8, 2019, in Rizal town, southern Palawan, for allegedly conducting anti-insurgency activities in Rizal and for setting up barangay intelligence networks (BINs).

Before him, Police Officer 1 Julpitri Gustaham and Police Officer 3 Alexander Mimbalawag who were investigating a vehicular accident in Taytay were ambushed and killed on June 22, 2018, by armed men believed to be members of the communist rebel group.

Duterte said his administration plans to purchase more high-powered guns and arm the mayors to forestall the NPA’s continuing attacks against police officers, government troops, and innocent civilians.

He said he will do it because many mayors “feel naked” against the NPA.

In November 2017, Duterte terminated the peace negotiation with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the umbrella organization of the NPA, for allegedly violating agreed ceasefires that had already killed policemen and innocent civilians.