President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s administration assured the public Friday that it has been carrying out measures to prevent communist insurgents from committing further terroristic activities in Masbate following a series of clashes between them and security forces this week.
Acting on a directive from the President, Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the military’s 9th Infantry Division (ID) and the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Regional Command in Bicol met at Camp Ola in Legazpi City last March 23 to increase police presence and visibility in schools affected by the activity of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The Philippine Army and PNP units in the area have intensified their operations against the rebels, Galvez said, adding concerned military commanders are also coordinating with the police, local government and school officials on how to counter the rebels’ misinformation campaign.
Peace and order council meetings will be convened to address the current situation and the government also activated quick reaction teams to assist affected students, teachers, and local population in Masbate, Galvez said.
“School officials were also briefed on how to react appropriately to a similar situation involving firefights or IED incidents in areas with close proximity to learning institutions,” the Defense chief said.
Citing the assessment of security officials, Galvez said the recent attacks by the rebels are acts of desperation after they encountered a series of setbacks in recent clashes with government troops.
Galvez noted that there is an emerging pattern among the insurgents of ambushing government forces and putting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas such as schools with little or no regard for the safety of students, teachers and other civilians.
The tactic, Galvez said, is to put up tarpaulins for propaganda to lure the soldiers knowing that government forces are on heightened alert due to the upcoming NPA anniversary this March 29.
Galvez reported that the rebels detonated IEDs in Placer and Dimasalang, Masbate, on Wednesday as soldiers removed the insurgents’ propaganda materials.
The 9th ID reported that on Wednesday morning, two soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion (2IB) were wounded in an encounter with more or less 11 NPA members at Barangay Locso-an in Placer town.
Bicol education officials said face-to-face classes have been suspended in elementary and secondary schools in four towns of Masbate province due to ongoing clashes between government forces and NPA rebels.
Schools in the affected areas will be closed for in-person classes until the situation normalizes, they said.
Catherine R. Cueto