Military, police and local government authorities launched here Tuesday the Provincial Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) to pursue “focused development initiatives” and to harmonize the delivery of inclusive social services in conflict-affected and vulnerable areas in Palawan.
PTF-ELCAC was set in motion by members of the Provincial Development Council (PDC) and the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) who also signed a “manifesto of support” condemning the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and other line agencies, around 13 municipal mayors, other local government unit (LGU) representatives, and concerned stakeholders.
Provincial legal officer Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, who represented Governor Jose Alvarez, said the joint PDC and PPOC meeting is pursuant to Executive Order (EO) No. 70 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 institutionalizing the “Whole-of-Nation Approach” to attain inclusive development and lasting peace.
“The two councils acting jointly adopted the directive of the president and implemented this to form a local task force which was basically designed for a long-term and final solution to the communist-terrorist threat. The community as a whole, together with the mayors and national government agencies and our partners in the security sector, committed ourselves to the local task force and produced a manifesto against the communist-terrorist group (CTGs),” he said during a media conference also Tuesday.
Matta said October 1 was a “momentous day” because for so long, everyone has been looking for a holistic approach against the leftist movement.
Just like the national framework, the provincial task force will initiate principles, plans, policies, and programs that will bring inclusive and sustainable peace.
The framework shall make available localized peace negotiations that will follow national guidance.
Among the functions of the PTF-ELCAC is the implementation of programs and projects that are whole-of-nation approach driven on strategic communication, capacity building, the delivery basic social services, and peace constituency initiatives.
Conflict-affected and vulnerable areas
Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina said they have identified 69 conflict-affected barangays in 11 municipalities in Palawan and in Puerto Princesa City.
Based on the data Medina provided, these municipalities are Sofronio Española, Quezon, Brooke’s Point, Rizal, and Bataraza in southern Palawan, and Coron, Araceli, Taytay, Dumaran, San Vicente, and Roxas in the northern area.
Of all municipalities, Taytay has the most number of vulnerable barangays or 14 out of 31.
“As presented, we have identified — based on the MIMAROPA way of identifying them — 69 priority areas in Palawan. We have already identified their primary and secondary issues. With this and the convergence of the two councils, we can further carry out our efforts holistically. Ibig sabihin, hindi lahat ng munisipyo at barangay ay pare-pareho, it depends on the program of the provincial government based on our data on what are those barangays that should be prioritized,” Medina said.
To start rolling the task force, he said they have proposed 12 clusters out of the total number of vulnerable areas and those in southern Palawan are now doing their activities while others are in their organizational stages.
In the following weeks, Medina said these clusters will already be functional with the guidance of the PTF-ELCAC that is chaired by Governor Alvarez.
“We are hoping that with the data we have, we can focus our efforts on eradicating those [primary and secondary] issues that were used by the CTGs in arousing support from the people and some sectors in Palawan. We are hoping that the creation of the provincial task force using a local government-centered approach will become an effective way in addressing the insurgency problem,” Medina said.
He said the approach will no longer just be “military-centered” but with now the participation of all concerned stakeholders.
PTF-ELCAC on addressing issues
Matta said some of the issues and concerns they have identified from the grassroots are land grabbing, lack of environmental protection, absence of employment opportunities, lack of educational services, no basic services, among others.
“What are the CTGs? What is the CPP-NPA-NDF? What is it in essence? It is a violent extremist movement so what does violent extremism usually feed on? They feed on certain social issues — injustices, which they use in order to motivate their recruits or their support communities. These actors are now infiltrating certain communities and sectors trying to feed them with local issues for residents to be sympathetic with them,” Matta added.
He said these things need to be addressed by achieving the implementation of “holistic solutions”.
Matta said “addressing” means going down to municipalities and to the identified conflict areas to address their particular needs.
“Hindi ibig sabihin na pababayaan ‘yong ibang areas, but we will have a better focus on these 69 areas because ito ang may problema ngayon na na-translate to provide support to the CTGs,” he said.
Persona non grata declaration, unmasking rebel supporters
Matta said there is also a need for other municipal governments to follow the steps of the six municipalities that have earlier declared the CPP-NPA-NDF and its members as persona non grata and denounced their atrocities.
Earlier this year, the towns of Brooke’s Point, Taytay, Araceli, Dumaran, Coron, Aborlan, approved personal non grata declarations against the rebel movement.
“The LGUs are at the forefront of the battle against CTGs. As local chief executives, whether municipal or barangay level, they should be the ones implementing the law against the CTGs. And the armed forces, the law enforcement, and security services are [going] to be there to support them,” he said.
On the other hand, municipalities and their chief executives that and who have not declared the leftist movement unwanted should be assessed based on the merits of their cases.
He said it cannot be “generalized” that they are supportive of the CPP-NPA-NDF based on non-declaration.
“I think that will depend on the merits of each case. That’s our stand; we cannot generalize these things na o porke’t hindi lang nag-declare ng persona non grata ay ka-ally na. There are other merits, especially the WESCOM in the field that needs to be addressed,” Matta said.
Medina said during the meeting of the task force, he said WESCOM explained to them the importance of the persona non grata declaration.
He said it is important to show support to the task force and EO 70 knowing that the CPP-NPA-NDF “playing ground” is in the barangay level.
“We are hoping that with our presentation, they will be able to pass these resolutions,” Medina said on why there is a need to denounce the leftist group.
“We need to ensure that the enemies of the state are not welcome in these municipalities in Palawan,” he added.The denouncement also matters, he said, for the whole-of-nation approach to move forward, particularly in the municipalities where there are conflict-areas.
He said that in the following days, they will be exposing the supporters and members of the CPP-NPA-NDF in Palawan, including posting their photos in strategic public areas.
Medina said they have identified that some rebels are not from Palawan but come because the province is “their source of finances and their rest and recreation areas”.
He said most major members of the rebel group in the province are from Mindoro and the Panay Islands.
“Most of the major players of the CTGs are not from Palawan. Those militia ng bayan who are returnees, who are also victims of their promises — that’s why we are also working closely with the Southern Luzon Command — because mostly they came from Mindoro and Panay so, hindi lang alam talaga ng Palawan na most of their meetings ay in Palawan,” he said.
“In the following days, we will not only provide names and pictures of the NPA but we will also be providing names and pictures of those supporting CTGs in Palawan — ‘yong mga legal fronts nila. We will have to unmask them in the next few months. But, of course, unmasking will be evidence-based,” Medina added. (with reports from Jayra Joyce Taboada)