Balangiga town is the latest town declared "insurgence-free" by the Philippine Army in Eastern Samar.
Balangiga town is the latest town declared “insurgence-free” by the Philippine Army in Eastern Samar.

CATBALOGAN CITY – The Armed Forces of the Philippines continues to gain grounds in Eastern Samar province, one of the most NPA-infested in the country, as more towns were classified as “insurgency-free” development-ready areas.

Lt. Col. Napoleon Z De Vera, Commander of the 14th Infantry (Avenger) Battalion on Friday said the historic town of Balangiga was the latest town added to the list of the manageable conflict-affected and development-ready (MCA-RDA) areas.

The Balangiga town became historic when Filipino freedom fighters attacked US 9th Infantry Regiment killing some 48 American soldiers in year 1901. Three church bells were taken by the US Army as “war booty” following the Balangiga incident during the Philippine-American War.

In 2012, the towns of Taft, Maydolong, Balangkayan, Hernani, San Julian, San Policarpo, Sulat were declared as manageable conflict-affected and ready for development. Declared as insurgence-free are the towns of Salcedo, Guiuan, Mercedes and Borongan City.

The joint-declaration was signed by the military officers of the 8th Infantry Division and the Local Government Units representatives.

“We cannot forward without addressing peace and development. We won’t progress without maintaining and preserving peace and order, and there could be no peace in us without putting development programs in our town,” said Quinapondan town mayor Nedito Campo.

Campo commended the military, police and the Estehanons for achieving a very peaceful community. Other officials also thanked their respective constituents.

Samar provinces, as well as Bicol, Davao, Caraga and Negros provinces, are among the remaining NPA-infested areas in the country.

To date, the AFP declared the provinces of Ifugao, Aklan, Apayao, Kalinga, Nueva Viscaya, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Biliran, Cebu, Bohol, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, South Cotabato, La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Cavite, Marinduque, Romblon, Guimaras, Siquijor, and Northern and Southern Leyte as insurgence-free areas.

The military claimed that from a peak of 24,000 revolutionary fighters in mid-1980s, the group’s strength has dwindled to 4,000 red fighters due to battle losses and surrenders.

The Communist Party of the Philippines however disputed this claim saying the NPA revolutionary forces were steadily growing in strength as proven by their recent ambuscades and attacks to the government forces.

Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesman said that the military’s new anti-insurgency strategy, the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, has been very effective and has made significant headways as far as ending the insurgency is concerned.

Since the implementation of IPSP Bayanihan in Eastern Visayas 2 years ago, a number of NPAs surrendered to the Philippine Army. The IPSP program is a “holistic” strategy and “people-centered” approach and less on armed confrontation in winning back the hearts and minds of the people.

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