Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur — At the onset of the New Year 2021, the Philippine Army’s 53rd Infantry “MATAPAT” Battalion (53IB) and 97th Infantry “KALASAG LAHI” Battalion have completely dismantled and defeated the HQ KALAW Platoon and Main Regional Guerilla Unit (MRGU) of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Zamboanga Peninsula.
The Army’s intensive soft and hard power initiatives in 2020 have caused the CPP NPA’s HQ KALAW and MRGU to operate at an inconsequential level at the brink of collapse, prompting the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Intelligence Committee (JAPIC) to recommend the formal announcement of its dismantling.
HQ KALAW previously had thirty-six (36) manpower and twenty-nine (29) assorted firearms; and MRGU with thirty-two (32) manpower and thirty-four (34) assorted firearms, which totaled to sixty-eight (68) Communist-NPA Terrorists (CNTs) in 102nd Infantry “IGSOON” Brigade Area of Operations (AO). The numbers have since depleted as a result of the persistence of the Army’s hybrid approach.
STRENGTHENED AND EQUIPPED 53IB “MATAPAT” TROOPERS
To prepare for this mission to finally end NPA operations in the province, a series of Small Unit Leadership Development Training was conducted to enhance the troops’ leadership and war-fighting ethos to prepare them for the harsh environment of war shortly after Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera assumed the position as 53IB Commanding Officer in March 2020.
The 53IB adopted the concept of hard and soft power approach to intensify the kinetic and non-kinetic initiatives during the conduct of operations to disrupt the NPA’s control of the Physical and Human terrain while psychologically containing the terrorist space and time.
The 53IB “Matapat” Troopers also conducted Mass Base Operations (MBO) in the hinterland barangays of Zamboanga del Sur in the unit’s area of operations to counter the NPA’s narratives by living with the people in the remote communities and winning their hearts and minds.
Recruitment of quality informants was also enhanced to provide essential details regarding the NPA’s presence, plans, movements, and activities.
Joint operations were also conducted to maximize the air assets of the Philippine Air Force’s Tactical Operations Group 9 (TOG9), which provided close air support, aerial reconnaissance and intelligence surveillance, air resupply, and faster troops insertion and exfiltration. This contributed not only to achieve the unit’s mission but also in boosting the morale of the 53IB “Matapat” Troopers.
CONVERGENCE AND COLLABORATIONS
The different programs implemented by the Local Task Forces to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (LTF-ELCAC) largely contributed to the successful operations of the 53IB. The convergence, collaboration, and the involvement of various local government units (LGUs), national government agencies (NGAs), formed the core to pursue progressive and sustainable peace in Zamboanga del Sur.
The 53IB collaborated with the Philippine Army’s 547th Engineer “AGILA” Battalion in constructing farm-to-market roads to provide easier access to hinterland barangays, which were mostly NPA-infested areas. This translated to the improved delivery of basic and government services including health services, education, and creation of job opportunities. The newly constructed farm-to-market roads also constricted the maneuver space of the NPA that further led to more intensive military operations.
With the improvement of poor living conditions in communities in Conflict-Affected Areas, the CPP-NPA was consequently declared as Persona-Non-Grata in their barangays. The withdrawal of mass base support and intensive military operations against them has degraded and weakened the NPA’s will to fight that prompted the influx of surrendering NPA members.
FORMATION OF CLUSTERS
Part of the 53IB’s Information Operations (IO) initiatives was forging partnerships with LTF-ELCAC in launching different support clusters to provide mechanisms and necessary procedures for conducting activities and operations in defeating the NPA in Zamboanga del Sur.
The Legal Cooperation Cluster was formed to aid the former NPA rebels in resolving their criminal cases. The said cluster filed necessary complaints against the CPP-NPA personalities who continually violate the law by committing atrocities and extortion activities on vulnerable sectors of the community.
Another LTF-ELCAC cluster, the Strategic Communications Cluster offered plenty of options to amplify the promotion of various government programs and services such as the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) and other LTF-ELCAC projects.
The Poverty Reduction, Livelihood, and Employment Cluster (PRLEC) was also formed in close coordination with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). This cluster has enabled the 53IB to capacitate the communities and facilitate poverty alleviation in Conflict-Affected Areas through the conduct of various skills development training seminars and projects.
Lt. Col. Herrera said the 53IB “Matapat” Troopers would continue to enhance its effective combined hard power and soft power strategy in creating a well-rounded approach to defeating the CPP-NPA in the province while empowering communities to maintain in rejecting the terrorists in their areas.
“The 53IB would continue in pursuing opportunities in strengthening their relationship with the communities to sustain the gains that we have achieved in finally ending the CPP-NPA armed insurgency in Zamboanga del Sur,” Lt. Col. Herrera said.