Augmenting the army capability

By Modesto P. Sa-onoy

One wonders why despite the reported pledge of loyalty of rural folks to the Philippine Army and several town and barangay resolutions against the NPA, the army still augmented its forces in Negros Island. Last week the 33rd Reconnaissance Company of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Panay arrived in Bacolod ostensibly to hunt down the NPA. Although this unit is separate and divisional, it will be under the operational control of the Negros based 303rd Infantry Brigade.

This company is reported to be specialists in seeking out the enemy in the tradition of the long-range patrol and combat troops that waded into Japanese territory in Burma during World War II and inflicted terrible havoc behind the Japanese line. The army had the patrol rangers, the special forces and other troops with peculiar training and leadership that hunt and destroy specific targets.

Their employment usually indicates operations against targets that evade normal tactics of military operations. The question arises: has the communist rebellion in Negros deteriorated to the extent that special operations had to be resorted to eliminate them?

Preceding the Recon company was the 14th Civil Military Operations Battalion with a hundred men component. They are specialists in dealing with the civil population to secure the people’s support for the military operations, not only in the countryside but even in the cities. Past CMO in Negros had close relationships with the media and brigade commanders were positioned to be friendly with and readily available as sources of news. The CMO personnel are those we might call, public relations officers or for the communists, they are the propagandists that operate to make their units friendly.

In the past I knew the CMO only with a few operatives, but with one hundred personnel, something must be afoot in public relations. Perhaps the army will be engaged in what intelligence operators call, “draining the pond” on which insurgency thrive.

As 303rd Brigade commander, Colonel Inocencio Pasaporte said, “We welcome the additional troops deployed in Negros to boost our efforts in our campaign against the Communist NPAs and to support the implementation of EO70.” This Executive Order approved on December 4, 2018 has an ambitious target in its title alone: institutionalizing the whole-of-the-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a national task force to end local communist armed conflict and directing the adoption of a national peace framework.

Almost all agencies of government are involved in this peace plan. It seems the augmentation of the fighting forces in Negros is part of this framework and with the unusual employment of 100 CMOs then we shall be seeing more of government public relations program.

Pasaporte further said that it will further “elevate the capability of the Brigade to support the different RCSPs within the Brigade AOR and strengthen our partnership with the LGUs and other agencies”. RCSP means Retooled Community Support Program that all local governments are supposed to implement since last year. Have you heard of it?

He made a distinction of the utilization of the two units sent to augment his brigade. The reconnaissance company will be used for combat operations and to hunt down armed groups of the Communist Party of the Philippines but the 14th CMO that specializes in civil military operations will focus on the civilians.

The 14th CMO was previously assigned in Luzon but its transfer here indicate there is a greater problem in the military relations with the communities. Indeed, we have noticed the reduced interaction between the media in this island than under previous brigade commanders, one of the last was General Jon Aying who is now the mayor of Sara, Iloilo. No wonder he easily got elected.

Where these units will be deployed has not been revealed. That is understandable but he said he will assess if he will send more troops in the first district of Negros Oriental, which is under his command. The CMO, however is a not a combat unit but we will know when they work.

The colonel pledged that, “The Philippine Army is sincere in our mandate to support the whole-of-nation approach to end the local communist armed conflict in Negros Island. With the support of the local government units, other agencies and the communities, we will achieve a peaceful province free from the influence of Communist NPA.”

Let’s see what happens.