Palawan has felt the struggles of armed groups over the last four decades, particularly the leftist New People’s Army, which began to establish a mass base in the towns of Aborlan and Narra in 1981.
And, just in time for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 87th founding anniversary and the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) 54th anniversary, Palawan was declared insurgency-free by a joint resolution of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) and the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF ELCAC) during its meeting last December 2.
According to Western Command’s (WESCOM) top officials, the declaration of Palawan as insurgency-free is long overdue since the province is no longer under threat of atrocities by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), based primarily in the Philippine countryside..
Even before the declaration, the leftist group had not been active in the province for almost a year, according to two high-ranking military officials in Palawan.
No more threats
The two officials did not say for sure that the NPA is no longer in the province. Instead, they said that the main goal is to break up the NPA’s guerilla fronts and vertical formations, as the national task force said in a joint letter-directive.
While there may still be personalities involved in the armed struggle, WESCOM chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos told Palawan News that they no longer have the capability to stage “mass action or any combat operations against the government,” which is one of the criteria for declaring a province insurgency free.
“First of all, they no longer have an active guerilla front here,” Carlos stated.
“And also, we have already disrupted their extortion activities, their income generation activities. Those are the basic criteria. Basically, they no longer have the capacity or the capability to launch an operation in Palawan,” he explained.
In addition to what Carlos said, the commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, Brigadier General Jimmy Larida, said that there have been no reports of NPA extortion since 2020.
Larida also stated that the declaration was highlighted by US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Puerto Princesa City on November 22. He claimed that there were specific orders from BAYAN national to hold a rally during Harris’ visit, but that this did not materialize in the province.
He explicitly noted that there was a directive for them to gather at least 50 rallyists but that they failed to do so because they do not have mass support anymore.
“So, in the last two years, they can no longer come up with such numbers, an indication that they are no longer relevant,” Larida said.
“And I think Vice President Harris’ visit is the (final) nail in the coffin,” he said, pertaining to the group’s demise in the province.
“So, true enough, KLG-North was dismantled sometime in 2020. And after the fatal encounter (in Brooke’s Point) the remnants of KLG-South run to the north, so in theory, the KLG-South was not dismantled because the remnants like Raka, Guillier and Degret just transferred to the north and became KLG-Palawan, which was (eventually) dismantled sometime in March 2021,” Larida narrated.
The fatal encounter in Brooke’s Point was the operation carried out by the military, particularly the Philippine Marines, in September 2020, which killed top NPA leaders, including Andrea Rosal, alias Naya, Ram, and Inlay, who is the daughter of the late NPA leader Gregorio “Ka Roger,” Rosal.
In addition, he stated that the SRMA-4E—the sub-regional party committee—is for evaluation at the unified command level, following the deliberations at the brigade level, with which the Philippine National Police counterpart has already concurred, and that there should be no unforeseen circumstances in the next two months prior to its approval.
“But for someone who is from Palawan, you will see that what remains are nothing but paper works. We are just waiting for signatures after two months that the declaration is recommended,” he explained.
“Maybe what we need to look at is, what is the real hindrance to the progress. When we say there is no longer (presence of) NPA, that’s it. Because for an ordinary Palaweño, what would be more important? Knowing the fact that there is no more NPA or to see the documents? These paper works are just part of the process, maybe just icing on the cake,” he said.
Carlos added that what should be more important for the people of Palawan is to know that the province is “really insurgency-free and that the group no longer has the capability.”
Larida also said that the declaration could have been made as early as January of this year, even though that was when Carlos took over as commander of WESCOM and former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Andres Centino told him to capture Sonny Rogelio, aka Ka Miggy, the province’s last remaining combatant and leader of the NPA.
Larida skipped the word “failure” when describing their efforts to locate and capture Ka Miggy. Rather, he stated that they did their utmost to find and capture Ka Miggy
“We did everything we could to find him, but we can’t, so there’s a big probability that he is no longer here. And considering that he is a Batangueño and not a native of Palawan, he won’t be able to thrive here and hide from one relative to another unlike Degret who can move from place to place in Port Barton. We already got his personal belongings, including his firearms, so there’s nothing left in him to be significant and to create a threat,” he said.
Carlos appended that, despite being a newcomer in January, he believed the time had come, as there was only one combatant left.
NPA history in Palawan
Carlos recalled that the initial records of NPA activities in Palawan began back in 1981.
According to WESCOM records, the NPA began in the province with the Panay Island Regional Party Committee (PIRPC) group, which initiated propaganda and mass organizing efforts in the cluster of far-flung barangays of Narra and Aborlan in southern Palawan.
The rebel’s umbrella front chapters such as LFS and Kabataan Para sa Demokrasya at Nasyonalismo (KADENA) were formed in 1985, followed by the Sangay Militar Sektor (SMS) under Ka Ninong/Milio. The Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC) of the Southern Luzon Commission (SLC) has also been monitoring Northern and Central Palawan, as well as remote barangays in the south.
From 1987 to 1989, the CPP/NPA/NDF was able to make and maintain significant progress in consolidating its coalition forces, which were made up of youth middle forces and urban poor/peasant sectors.
The group reached its peak in 1991, when it established the Komite Sub-Distrito (KSD) under the Mindoro Island Party Committee (MIPC) as the highest governing body, overseeing the group’s operations throughout the province, which included the municipalities of Roxas and San Vicente in northern Palawan.
It was during this time that the group was able to amass 31 firearms and 32 men, infiltrating five barangays and threatening another 30.
However, the group was decimated the following year as a result of WESCOM’s intensified military operations, which also weakened its expansion activities in the province.
The group started to get stronger again in 1996, when new members from Mindoro, led by Ka Bon, were brought in, split into three groups, and spread out.
Since then, the NPA has been trying to get a strong foothold in the province, but in recent years, stronger military operations have again gained ground, which has led to the group’s downfall to where it is now.
Carlos said that if Executive Order No. 70 had been issued earlier, the armed conflict could have been ended years ago.
“I believe, this Task Force ELCAC was the missing ingredient. There was no Barangay Development Fund before so the support to develop affected barangays were also non-existent,” Carlos surmised.
“Now, there is P20 million per barangay which we hope will continue so that those barangays that were cleared from insurgency problems will be given priority focus in the development,” he said.
Larida, for his part, stated that EO 70 played a significant role because it was a direct order from the president, who chairs the task force.
“Unlike before, when the whole-of-government approach was introduced, it was just lateral,” he said.
Carlos, on the other hand, said the whole-of-nation approach was already in place, but it was only formally organized through EO 70, which is a direct order from the president.
“We knew back then that ground operation will not be enough to solve the problem. That’s why we have a triad because we need to organize the communities, through civil military operations and with the help of the barangay captains, the LGUS,” he said.
They say that both EO 70 and recent operations that led to the capture and neutralization of high-ranking NPA leaders in the province played a role in the end of the NPA in the province.
Larida specifically mentioned the Brooke’s Point encounter, in which four NPA commanders were killed. He claimed it was a defining moment for other leaders and members to surrender.
“Those who were neutralized in Brooke’s Point were the movers, decision-makers, while Ka Allan who surrendered is a company commander who gets direct orders from Ka Selnon (Boy 1),” he said.
“They were prestigious to their subordinates that’s why the group lost direction,” he added.
Another factor he mentioned is the group’s inability to engage in extortion activities. “Because their income generation was greatly affected when their finance officer was captured,” he explained.
He went on to say that their “success” was a culmination of efforts built from previous years, that they just kept building from.
“Credit also goes to our predecessors for setting the stage. They have (done) a lot in preparing the battlefield,” he said.
“If you look from 2016, there was a significant reduction in their extortion activities. And this is also one factor which contributed to their downfall,” Carlos added.
Achieving insurgency-free status is critical
Carlos also said that getting rid of insurgencies is important because tourism is one of the province’s main sources of income.
He also commended the general public and other stakeholders, claiming that their cooperation was critical in achieving the status.
“The successful operations, they’re all based on information provided to us by the people on the ground. And the accomplishments, it’s really a joint effort,” he said.
With the national approach in place, Larida said that the AFP is no longer the only group working to stop the problem from coming back. He said that the problem now is more with the localities, as former NPA members had said.
“Former rebels like that of Jerwin Castigador has been vocal in identifying issues here which if not solved could trigger the resurgence, like mining and land issues and disputes,” Larida stated.
Carlos chimed in, agreeing that preventing resurgence will be a localized issue, citing the NPA’s national demise.
“I think there is always an issue with the ancestral domain claims. They can always make that an issue and use that to recruit, tell the IPs that you are getting the raw end of the deal. Not only here but also in other provinces as well,” Carlos explained.
“Resurgence from the outside will also have lesser chance because there is no more source. So, we are looking at localized issues. And since there is no more aggressive insurgency, no more reinforcement will come. We have already addressed the source, and hopefully, will also be addressed by the whole AFP,” he said.
In terms of local government, Carlos believes that good governance “will do the trick.”
“While we continue to harden the targets by ensuring continued presence to deter resurgence, (the LGU must) Continue whatever programs that they have – the infrastructure projects, the barangay development projects, otherwise, complaints will start again,” he said.
“In terms of assurance, our forces are still there, we have enough forces in place, they remain in their camps and patrol bases. So, if there will be reports of any presence, presence reported, we can easily address,” he added.
Larida also posited that tactical synergy, such as resource sharing, will be a key factor on their part.
“In addition to the sustainment, we also have our Integrated Territorial Defense System, where there are three basic requirements which we already have in place – Barangay Intelligence Network (BINs), civilian volunteers, and the CAFGU detachments where barangays can easily access should there be any threat,” he said.
Local government efforts
Governor Victorino Dennis M. Socrates said that the declaration will help the economy by attracting more businesses to the province.
He also indicated that it will hasten the recovery of the economy, particularly the tourism industry.
However, he added that, while the declaration is a welcome development, efforts to maintain the status must also be taken seriously.
“Our worry now is, of course, they will also exert efforts to regain the sympathy they lost, so I also understand that all our law enforcement agencies, especially the PTF-ELCAC will focus on the information campaign, making people understand that communism is not an ideology that is good for us,” Socrates said.
He explained that for the longest time, communist ideology has made false promises, particularly to young people who are inherently motivated to fight for social justice and the betterment of their lives, but that idealism is being influenced negatively.
“The promises of equality and justice is there but in reality, they cannot put it into proper context. At least at my age and in our country, based on experience, we know that it won’t work,” he stated, adding that the best way to attain social justice, peace, prosperity for all is our existing system is to have a strong political will to make government work.
He, however, refused to associate good governance to the maintenance of the status, claiming that it is a fundamental tenet of political leaders to carry out their mandate.
“I take it for granted that whether we are insurgency-free or not, over and above, our concern sa peace and order, in fighting this insurgency, we have to do our jobs and fulfill our obligations to render the necessary services to our constituents,” he concluded.