The Army's 3 rd Infantry Division will shift its focus from Panay to Negros Occidental starting next year, its commander, Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, said yesterday.
“We are about to complete our activities in Panay island. So we hope to start our clearing activities in Negros by next year”, Guerrero said.
The 3ID and government officials of Roxas City and the province of Capiz will sign a memorandum of agreement on Dec. 22 and 23, declaring their respective areas as “Conflict Manageable and Ready for further Development,” with Iloilo province next.
In Negros Occidental, the fourth district and lone district of Bacolod that have been peaceful for more than two decades as indicated by the absence of insurgency-related incidents, are also ready to be declared as “peaceful and ready for further development”, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, had said earlier.
Aying noted that the problem in Negros is no longer an insurgency, but lawlessness and banditry of the remaining New People's Army rebels.
The province of Negros Oriental was recently declared as conflict manageable and development ready by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Guerrero, who initiated a fellowship activity with Negros media Thursday night in Bacolod City, said they hope to be given additional troops, once they shift focus to Negros.
“But for now, we are making do with our available troops,” he said.
What we will be doing is just to request the return of our troops borrowed by other units from Negros island, Guerrero said.
The 303 rd Infantry Brigade estimates that there are still about 200 armed NPA rebels operating in Negros Occidental.
The NPA accused the Philippine Army of continuing militarization of the countryside, especially in Cauayan, Candoni and Sipalay City in northern Negros..
Guerrero said the military troops, especially in northern Negros, are performing peace and development activities, with Bayanihan Teams deployed in barangays.
“It is not directed to combat but more on stakeholders engagement, trying to assist local government units in implementing government programs, most especially in trying to have the communities uplift their lives,” he said.
More than 20 hinterland and conflict-affected barangays in Escalante City, Toboso and Calatrava are beneficiaries of the programs and projects of the Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit, of which the Philippine Army, civil society groups, non-government organizations and the private sector are members.
Similar activities are also being initiated by Pro-PIDU in the 5 th district of Negros Occidental. * GPB
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