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Rebel Updates: Agaw Armas in Mindanao, Agaw Relief Goods in Visayas?

While rebels were reported looting of firearms and ammunition in Kidapawan City early November, now the rebels are allegedly after relief goods transported to Tacloban City. Several reports claimed that they attempted to snatch away relief supplies badly needed by locals affected by the super typhoon. It was said to be just a meager portion of the Php13.174 billion assistance needed by calamity victims for relief and rehabilitation, but the shipment would have been a huge help to hunger-stricken communities fighting for survival. So, who are the real victims here? Let’s see when the table has been turned.

A few days before the reported ambush, the Communist Party of the Philippines has mobilized its troops and called for assistance to calamity victims. Next thing we know, reports quoting Col. Joselito Kakilala surfaced that a 15-man group of the New People’s Army staged an ambush against a relief convoy guarded by the 903rd Infantry Brigade in Brgy. Bolocawe, Matnog, Sorsogon at around 5:25 in the morning on November 12. The attempt was luckily foiled by the soldiers resulting to two dead rebels and one injured. Sources further stated that one of the fatalities was identified as “Ka Abel” of the Sorsogon Provincial Unit, now short not only of a commander and a follower but also of several firearms and explosives. Among the recovered weapons were a baby Armalite 0.45 pistol, M-14 carbine, and M-16 rifles.

Now, it turned out the “ambuscade” angle was not even true according to a report recently published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer citing Capt. Mardjorie Panesa, Public Information Officer of the 9th Infantry Division, who said the incident was a rebel encounter. Although Col. Kakilala concurred that no ambush took place, he contended that “there was just a supposed plan to ambush potential convoy” based on the text message sent by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares to the PDI. Has the military resorted to propaganda to divert public attention over the slow progress of relief operations and let the rebels take the heat? However, the apparent slow response of the national government to bring aid to typhoon victims was no propaganda. It has been much publicized by international news teams and recognized by the United Nations. The military might not want to play the same cards used by the rebels when the Apolonio Mendoza Command of the NPA accused AFP personnel as the perpetrators of the Php10 million DSWD 4Ps fund heist in Quezon last month.

Meanwhile, the release of abducted barangay executives in Loreto, Agusan del Sur by the NPA was made official. The five newly elected officers will be freed soon within the month upon the suspension of military operations in the province according to the Southern Mindanao NDF spokesperson.

If there’s real threat from the NPA, it would have been from Leyte Provincial Operations Command directly affected by the calamity’s devastation. A series of rebel attacks within the 4th quarter of 2012 led to at least 24 fatalities and 18 casualties on the government’s side. Yet, there were no verified assaults by armed rebels against locals in the area except the circulating rumors of armed men breaking into the city. On November 13, an initial report in Ormoc City via social media broke out on the alleged NPA ambush of a relief convoy at the Carigara junction on its way to Tacloban City. But, none of these are helping the inhabitants struggling for food, water, and health supplies whose misery was aggravated by the budding panic attack. Consequently, a native folk just died due to scarce medical supplies while eight locals in Alang-Alang, Leyte passed away after they ransacked an NFA warehouse.

Social media posts claimed that, “NPA rebels allegedly ambushed Tacloban-bound relief trucks at the Carigara junction,” but PNP Public Community Relations Group later slammed unverified reports. The police force has already sent 600 additional personnel to Tacloban City while over 200 others from Davao were deployed to Leyte to maintain peace and order. The Department of National Defense also posted a hotline for law enforcement concerns in Tacloban City since looting has been rampant in the area. According to the Task Force Commander in the city, the public may text 09166251554 for peace and order concerns in the area and the PNP will respond to reports.

In the wake of super typhoon Yolanda, Tacloban City was turned into a jungle where the rule of the game is back to survival of the fittest. Looting was reduced to some sort of necessity rather than a criminal act justified by the sense of “self-preservation” although it is limited to basic commodities for self-sustenance. Otherwise, getting killed would be justified by trespassing or theft like the breadwinner of a family who got shot dead allegedly for an attempt to steal automobile battery. Does the poor man need to die like a rebel for batteries when he could have been driven away with the mere sight of a gun? Too bad police augmentation didn’t make a difference at all.

It is the death of the defenseless, underprivileged, and poor peasants that once fueled the ideals of the CPP-NPA-NDF. But with current conditions across affected areas, where people has to struggle not only for basic necessities but also for physical security, the government might just lose locals to the revolutionary government, especially after Eastern Visayas has been reported to have incidents of mass surrender. It would be a bigger loss than trucks of relief goods that could be replenished in a day or two.

Agaw Armas Group in Mindanao

There’s no truth to the ambush of relief convoy by the rebels, but that doesn’t mean the incidents of weapon snatching weren’t true. The latest confirmed incident took place on November 1 when alleged members of the NPA “agaw armas” group assaulted and killed a barangay official and injured a village peacekeeper in Brgy. Malinan, Kidapawan City. Authorities ruled out the angle of political killing since the motive of the attack was “weapon gathering” with the rebels fleeing from the crime scene with .38 revolver, .45 pistol, M-14 rifle, and M1 30 Garand. Security analysts find weapon snatching common when it comes to rebel activities as new recruits have been obligated to gather weapons as part of their training.

Without a doubt, weapons are imperative to armed struggle that firearm smuggling has been controversial. It was mid-2013 when the alleged smuggling of AK-47s caught the attention of the government and later merited an investigation. Several months of probe over the supplier of smuggled weapons for the NPA led the authorities to intercept some high-powered rifles early this month from Tulunan, North Cotabato. Government troops engaged in a car chase in T’boli, South Cotabato on November 3 to recover a cache of AK-47s supply from the rebels, according to 27th Infantry Battalion spokesman.

With several firearms for the NPA seized by the AFP, the rebels are likely to compensate for the lost weapons by raiding houses of retired military personnel, as well as, PNP and AFP headquarters. Government intelligence on the rebels’ weapon gathering activities has to be as efficient as AK-47 smuggling. Or else, such efforts to curb smuggled firearms for the rebels will not serve their ends.