CAMP ELIAS ANGELES, Pili, CamSur – The Army forces in the Bicol Region has welcomed the pronouncements from the AFP leadership regarding the agreed ceasefire with the communist rebels during the yuletide season, a senior military official said.
Major General Ruperto Pabustan, Commander of the 9th Infantry Division which has jurisdiction over the six provinces covering the Bicol Region, said that the soldiers under his command are happy that there will be a suspension of military operations.
"With the ceasefire, we can readily allow our soldiers to spend time with their loved ones after the long months of their dedicated service far away from home'" said Pabustan.
In keeping with the religious tradition, soldiers are allowed to spend a week-long Christmas vacation with their respective families. Normally, soldiers take turns in taking a short respite by spending either the "Christmas break" or the "New Year's Break".
Pabustan also cited the major gains of the government against the communist insurgency in the region. He said that the primary focus of the Philippine Army in dealing with the communist threat is to help address the root causes which had driven some people to take up arms against the government.
"In close coordination with the local government leaders, we were able to effectively implement the Kalayaan sa Barangay Program (KBP) projects in areas where they are most needed. From January 2009 to this day, the Army Engineers have constructed various infrastructure projects including 9 school buildings, 7 electrification systems,7 health centers, 9 water systems and 6 farm-to-market roads (FMR) totaling P35,500,000.00," disclosed Pabustan.
In a significant step of shedding off its 'warrior' image, soldiers are also actively involved in various 'non-traditional military roles' such as environmental protection. In military camps across the region, soldiers are required to implement waste management programs, clean-up drive in waterways as well as tree planting activities especially in government protected areas such as Mt Isarog watershed and the forest park in Camarines Norte.
In its drive to bring the soldiers and CAFGU personnel closer to the people, medical and dental missions as well as blood-letting activities were intensified. Over 200,000 cc of donated blood is now deposited in a blood bank in Naga City, for use during emergency medical procedures benefiting soldiers and their families as well as the civilians who request for them.
Being one of the trusted agencies during natural calamities, the 9th Infantry Division's Disaster Response Operations (DRO) teams are heavily engaged in the local government's rescue and relief operations in disaster affected areas. During the latest Bulusan eruption in Sorsogon province last November, the soldiers were in the forefront in the evacuation of more or less 1,500 people from villages within the 4-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ). Twenty heavy transport trucks were also augmented to assist the local disaster management office in its disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities such as the delivery of relief goods, clean-up drive and medical missions inside the evacuation centers.
LtCol Rodolfo Batang, Civil-Military Operations officer of the 9th Infantry Division said that the soldiers have indeed 'won the hearts and minds of the people'. "We have shown even our enemies that we are serious in protecting human rights. In many clashes, we saved the lives of hapless civilians who were caught in the middle of the firefight like the one which occurred in Tible village in Lupi town, Camarines Sur. We also treated our captured enemies humanely and with dignity thereby persuading them to help us in locating some of their arms hoards and the surrender of their comrades," said Batang.
The Philippine Army has also made a positive stride in its campaign against the communist rebels. Army records show the decrease of the rebel strength in CY 2010 by 108 from its top strength of 415 in 2009, making their current number to 307 armed fighters scattered all around the region. The reduction of the NPA strength is attributed to the surrender of 57 fighters and the death of 20 others during encounters. Two of its ranking leaders, Elmer Osila and Eleuterio Mangampo, perished in the clashes.
During the national and local elections, the Philippine Army has displayed its highest standard of discipline and professionalism in its herculean tasks of safeguarding the conduct of elections. In May 2010 elections, the election-related violent incidents all over Bicol Region was down to 10. More than 100 firearms were also confiscated by both the AFP and the PNP from various armed groups which were used by local politicians.