LEGAZPI CITY — The military general assigned as new commander of the Philippine Army (PA) contingent in Bicol has vowed to prevent the New People’s Army (NPA) in the region from terrorizing the 2016 general elections.

“I am going to relentlessly pursue what my immediate predecessor has started and been successfully doing in providing Bicol a wider space where the people can feel safe and grow as progressive communities,” Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Quidilla said in a statement reaching here Sunday.

Quidilla recently replaced Maj. Gen. Yerson Depayso as commanding general of the 9th Infantry (Spear) Division (ID), the PA contingent based in Pili, Camarines Sur and providing the region security from internal threats posed by the NPA.

Depayso’s two-year stint with the command saw the weakening of the rebel movement in the region which led to the recent declaration, one after the other of four provinces—Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Albay as “peaceful and ready for further development”.

The declarations were formalized through separate Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) entered into by the four provincial governments with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) stating that their respective areas are already “Conflict Manageable and Ready for Development (CMRD)”.

Each MOU signaled the “shifting of effort” of the AFP-PA from clearing of barangays from insurgent affectation supported by socio-economic development to a reverse role and emphasizes the implementation of more projects that the civil government will implement with the support and protection of the military.

The declarations of peace in the four provinces were based on the decreased violent activities of the NPA, the reduction of its potential support system in the barangays and its failed recovery efforts.

This achievement was said to be not possible without the cooperation of the leaders of the provinces along with the local government units (LGUs) who have partnered with the AFP in fighting insurgency.

“We will continue to abide by these MOUs for it is a proof that the efforts of the government and its armed forces to restore peace and tranquility in the provinces have not been put in vain. We in the military stand by our mandate as the protector of the people and keepers of the integrity of the state,” Quidilla stressed.

There are still two Bicol provinces that are yet to be placed under the CMRD declaration—Sorsogon and Masbate — where the threat of NPA insurgency to internal security remains a major concern and, he said his command, will work on it starting from what Depayso has started so that the region’s insurgency problem comes to a manageable level.

In the case of Sorsogon, the Area Clearing Validation Board (ACVD) from the 9th ID and the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional office had recently validated reports on the clearing of 13 rebel-affected barangays of the five municipalities of the province.

The ACVB chaired, by Brig. Gen. Ignacio Obligacion, 9ID assistant division commander, is looking toward to declaring Sorsogon, along with Masbate, under CMRD before the end of 2016.

These 13 Sorsogon barangays which have undergone AFP’s Bayanihan Team Activities have been recommended “cleared of NPA” by the Area Clearing Evaluation Team headed by Col. Alden Juan Masagca, deputy commander of the 903rd Infantry Brigade based in the province.

During last Oct. 29’s turn-over of command from Depayso to Quidilla, PA commanding general Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año lauded the former for being the primemover in sustaining the peace and development in Bicol by intensifying coordination with the civilian sectors that limited the territorial area and weakened the influence of the NPAs in the rural areas.

Under Depayso, Año said, the “Kilusang Larangang Gerilya 77, 78”, a battalion-size and largest NPA unit operating in the region, has been reduced to “Kilusang Sangay sa Platon” or a mere platoon of armed guerrillas owing to the fall of its top leaders.

The 9ID, through Depayso’s leadership, was able to neutralize 84 NPAs including high value enemy personalities, recovered 45 high-powered firearms, 73 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), various war materiel and enemy documents of high intelligence value, PA records show..

Año said he was confident Quidilla will perform his duty at his best for the accomplishment of 9ID’s mission and of the AFP as a whole.

Before his present assignment, Quidilla was assistant commander of the 2nd Infantry (Jungle Fighter) Division stationed at Camp General Mateo Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal.

The AFP has been maintaining the presence of the PA for about 16 years now in Bicol with its 9ID which is in command of three infantry brigades composed of nine infantry battalions and seven support units, including an engineering battalion distributed in all the six provinces of the region.

In over 45 years, Quidilla said Bicol’s opportunity to advance to progress — with its vast mineral deposits, agricultural lands, rich fishing grounds, exotic ch natural resources and hard-working people — has been stalled by unstable peace situation due to the presence of the NPA rebels and the culture of violence that sowed fear among local communities.

They prevent the implementation of government infrastructure projects, harass industrial companies, extort money in form of “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen, contractors and even from farmers, and execute those who refuse to remit including innocent civilians and civilian government officials, he said.

And behind the declaration as “peaceful and ready for further development” areas of most Bicol provinces, Quidilla said there are still small units of NPA operating and posing a threat to the peaceful conduct of next year’s elections.

These small rebel groups, according to him, are remnants of the already-dismantled larger NPA units and showing their presence in some areas to be able to impose “permit to campaign” and “permit to win” fees from local candidates in the forthcoming elections.

His command, Quidilla said, will keep them on the run so that no space is left for them to initiate their terroristic acts.

“We, however, will keep the doors open for their peaceful surrender and so that those who may choose to lay down their arms and return to the fold of the law are given the chance to live a normal life under the mainstream of a peaceful society,” he said. PNA