By Perla Lena and John Rey Saavedra

SEIZED FIREARMS. Some of the firearms confiscated from members of the New People’s Army in recent encounters. Visayas Command chief, Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, said on Monday (Dec. 4, 2023) that the military offensive against insurgents will continue while the Marcos administration is exploring the possibility of resuming talks with the National Democratic Front. (Photo courtesy of Viscom PIO)

CEBU CITY – Soldiers in the Visayas will continue its operations against communist rebels and engage communities in localized peace initiatives despite the Marcos administration’s expression of readiness to reopen peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), an Army official said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, Visayas Command (Viscom) commander, said while the national government is doing exploratory talks for the possible return of the peace negotiation, the military would continue its ground operations.

Arevalo said they are committed to end the local communist armed conflict.

“With that, our focused military operation will continue, as well as our localized peace engagement with those NPA terrorists who would like to return to the fold of the law. Our efforts will never waver, as we remain committed to ending the local communist armed conflict in this part of the country,” Arevalo said in a statement.

The Viscom chief urged the few remaining members of the communists in the region not to rely on the ongoing talks between the government and the representatives of NDF.

He maintained that their focused military operations will continue as there is no finality yet in holding the talks.

“We will never stop pursuing them, unless directed by higher authority,” he added.

Arevalo’s statement came as Viscom reported the command’s accomplishments against the communist rebels in the Visayas for November.

Last week, Viscom held a four-day Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) project implementation workshop and a briefing about last month’s gains.

Fifteen government-initiated armed encounters resulted in the neutralization of 77 rebels and confiscation of 38 firearms, including seven anti-personnel mines. 

In a separate statement, the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division credited the successful anti-insurgency campaign in Western and Central Visayas to the convergence of government resources under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

In its accomplishment report released on Monday, the division said over five years since Executive Order (EO) 70 mandated the creation of the task force, 272 formerly insurgency-affected barangays from the two regions benefitted from the support to barangay development program (SBDP) projects worth over PHP3 billion.

“The projects include farm-to-market roads, electrification projects, school buildings, health initiatives, drainage and potable water systems, assistance to needy individuals, and support for local farmers with equipment and inputs,” the statement said.

The relentless campaign, combatant and non-combatant approaches, led to the neutralization of 612 leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and the surrender of 1,217 members of Militia ng Bayan/Yunit Militia.

Among the neutralized regular NPAs, 151 were killed in encounters, 296 surrendered, and 165 were captured and apprehended.

Of their 284 armed engagements, the 3ID seized or recovered 781 firearms, consisting of 200 high-powered and 581 low-powered guns.

Further, 982 former rebels received benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), composed of immediate and livelihood assistance, firearms remuneration, and reintegration aid. (PNA)