MANILA – National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. on Sunday said the improvement of the peace and order situation in the Davao Region highlights the need for the Barangay Development Program (BDP) as communities cleared from the influence of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) are now ready for further growth and progress.
Esperon, who is also vice-chair of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said the presence of the CPP-NPA has long hindered the development of Mindanao including Davao Region and Davao City.
“Notwithstanding the geographical abundance and economic activity in Davao City, the presence of the NPA has long been a force that has hindered the development of Mindanao, the Davao Region, and of Davao City,” Esperon said in a statement forwarded to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Sunday.
The BDP, he said, is a package of socio-economic development programs earmarked for areas cleared of NPA infestation.
BDP major programs
The major programs under the BDP namely, farm-to-market roads, livelihood, irrigation, and health stations, are precisely what formerly affected communities have asked for.
“In fact, these programs address the issues commonly exploited by the NPA. In its entirety, the BDP consists of a package of development programs that aim to alleviate the conditions of barangay recipients,” Esperon said.
He added that projects earmarked for each barangay are as follows: PHP12 million for farm-to-market roads; PHP3 million for school buildings; PHP2 million for water and sanitation systems; and PHP1.5 million for health stations, and PHP1.5 million for livelihood and other projects
The BDP funds amounting to PHP16.4 billion will come from the NTF ELCAC’s PHP19 billion budget for 2020.
He added that the Davao Region will be receiving projects and funding for school buildings, among other projects, in order to provide places of learning that will replace the NPA learning and recruitment institutions ordered closed by the Department of Education 11 in 2019.
“As the BDP is envisioned with the end goal of bringing development to conflict-prone communities, the initiatives under the program aim to address the gaps identified by both the civilian agencies and the security sector in Davao. It had been a goal for the Regional Task Force of Region XI that the BDP package for the Region shall address the main drivers and causes for NPA recruitment among disgruntled and marginalized communities, such as the lack of education infrastructure, inaccessibility, basic services, healthcare, and connectivity in its isolated and disadvantaged areas,” he said.
He added that a substantial number of cleared barangays are in regions where CPP-NPA influence has been earlier weakened by government operations since 2016.
Based on figures from the security sectors like the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Esperon said most of the barangays cleared as of 2019 are located in Mindanao.
“The AFP had prioritized its previous clearing operations in Mindanao due to the CPP-NPA’s expansion of operations in the said area. But for the year 2020, the initial tally of barangays cleared of CPP-NPA influence has reached 1,376 and most of these are in the Bicol and CARAGA regions, as well as in the Eastern and Western Visayas regions,” he added.
Multi-stakeholder grassroots initiatives
Through the multi-stakeholder grassroots initiatives of the BDP, Esperon said the NTF ELCAC is confident that the implementation of the projects under the BDP in Region 11 will produce the positive results desired for these former communist terrorists controlled communities.
“It is our hope that through the BDP, vulnerable communities will no longer find themselves helpless against the conditions that forced them to have faith in the CPP-NPA and to join the communist armed insurgency. It cannot be overstated that the BDP is an innovative and comprehensive undertaking that has never been launched before. For the record, the Duterte administration is determined to leave a lasting legacy by way of utilizing a Whole-of-Nation Approach in eradicating the decades-long communist armed conflict,” he added.
Esperon also said that it is the goal of the Duterte Administration to transform former guerilla bases into peaceful and productive communities via the BDP.
“I must emphasize the fact that we are all stakeholders in the nationwide goal of ending the local communist armed conflict. It is, therefore, the goal of this administration that former guerilla bases become peaceful and productive communities which we can refer to as ‘Tahimik at Maunlad na Pamayanan’,” he added.
He added that by transforming former areas of conflict in the country, Filipinos are now closer to the goal of sustainable grassroots development and lasting peace.
Davao Region located near strategic Red enclaves
Of the five CPP-NPA Regional Party Committees (RPC) in Mindanao, four are in Eastern Mindanao.
Esperon said these are Northeast Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC), the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCMRC), the South Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC), and the Far South Mindanao Regional Committee (FSMRC).
“Both the FSMRC and SMRC are operating in Davao Region. The SMRC comprises five sub-units, known as guerilla fronts, threatening Davao City. Of particular concern to our security forces is that within Davao City is an existing armed guerilla unit, the Pulang Bagani Command (PBC), which has weakened after barangays therein have been cleared of CPP-NPA influence,” he added.
He said the guerilla fronts seek to expand the influence and control over a population within a specified territory through a pseudo-political structure and an armed element.
These guerilla fronts, he added, also serve as the politico-military-geographical units of the CPP-NPA, which is listed is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
“GFs (Guerilla Fronts) consist of political and military components within a specified territory. Each territory consists of several municipalities straddling provincial and even regional boundaries. The territory of a Guerilla Front has a tactical center located at the remote common boundary of several municipalities or provinces where the NPA exerts total control or influence on the population,” Esperon said.
He added that these guerilla fronts are considered vital to CPP-NPA operations particularly in the Davao Region as these organizations have access to barangays or communities where they exert influence over and thus preventing developmental projects from entering.
This, Esperon said, causes a cycle of poverty, isolation, disease, hunger, and lack of educational and livelihood opportunities hindering growth and prosperity in these CPP-NPA-controlled communities.
“For progress to begin, communities must be first freed from the threat and influence of the NPAs in their vicinity,” he added.
He said the dismantling of guerilla fronts necessitates a comprehensive process involving coordination between security operations and developmental intervention projects.
An improved community service program
This intervention, he added, is carried out through the Community Service Program (CSP) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that was improved further by the NTF-ELCAC in 2019.
“The clearing operations necessitate the disassembling of firstly, the politico-military structure that has been established and controls the community; and secondly, a community effort that culminates in the rejection of the NPA and their eventual denial of access into the area they have formerly controlled,” Esperon said.
From 2016 to date, there have been four guerilla fronts dismantled in Davao City, two have been dismantled in Davao de Oro, three in Davao del Norte, two in Davao Occidental, two in Davao Oriental, and one in Davao del Sur.
A total of 215 barangays in the Davao Region were cleared of CPP-NPA influence from 2016 to 2019.
“The former NPA communities are now ripe for developmental projects through the BDP,” Esperon said.
Davao Region: Massive chunk of PH real estate
The Davao Region has a total land area of 20,357 square kilometers and is composed of 4 provinces – Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, and Davao del Sur, and the independent City of Davao.
The region, which has five component cities – Panabo City, Tagum City, Digos City, Island Garden City of Samal, and Mati City, is characterized by mountain ranges encompassing the western border, the northern central area, and the northwestern area leading to the point in the southeast, with irregular distribution of plateaus and lowlands.
Davao City is the hub for tourism, commerce, and trade-not just in the region, but for the whole of Mindanao. It is likewise the center for logistics, banking, and industry particularly for plantation and mining companies in the region.
Considered the largest city in the Philippines with a total land area of 2,443.61 square kilometers, Davao City is bigger than the combined land areas of Rizal and Metro Manila, which has a total land area of| 1,830.49 square kilometers.
Davao City is comprised of 182 barangays. Its population, based on the 2020 census, is 1,825,450 – almost the same as that of the population of the City of Manila.
“Unlike Metro Manila, a highly urbanized area and the center for socio-economic development in the country, Davao City is characterized as a rural area despite being classified as an independent city with the largest land area among the cities in the country. The fact remains that there are numerous isolated and remote barangays within the city. Hence, with the large land area of Davao City, there still is a need for development and infrastructure for the growth of the city,” Esperon said. (PNA)