Military belittles communist-declared offensive in Bikol

LEGAZPI CITY--Military authorities belitled the communist movement’s declaration to launch a full tactical offensive against government forces reportedly to signal its strong resistance to the holding of the RPUS Balikatan exercises in three provinces in Bicol.

Army Col. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 901st Army Brigade based in Albay, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is always prepared to meet the challenges declared by the communist movement.

He said “normally our forces are always on heightened alert for any offensive initiated by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who are bent to sow terror in the countryside.”

Bernardo tagged the communist movement as “antipeople and anti-development” as manifested by their attacks on government forces and extortion and harassment committed against innocent civilians and business groups.

Earlier, Greg Banares, spokesman of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Bikol, said in a press statement the central committee of the NPA has ordered its operating units across the region to launch an all-out offensive against government forces to thwart the Balikatan exercises in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate in April.

Banares said the communist central committee directed all NPA groups in Bikol and in Western Visayas to pursue an offensive against the government because of the scheduled Balikatan exercises.

Meanwhile, Bernardo said a Balikatan survey team composed of US Navy and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel have finalized the humanitarian mission plan.

The survey team has pinpointed the town of Libon in the third district of Albay, the towns of Juban and Irosin in Sorsogon and Uson and Mobo in Masbate as venues of the Balikatan mission. He said the 16th Balikatan exercise will be absolutely humanitarian as he emphasized that “there will be no war games.”

The US contingent will bring along some 400 US Navy engineers and doctors, medical staffs and medicines, as well as engineering equipment.

The Philippine counterpart will send thousands of AFP personnel to undertake the humanitarian missions.

From Mindanao, a war-torn region of Southern Philippines, the RP-US Balikatan exercises will be moving to the Bikol Peninsula this year, Bernardo said.

A hotbed of insurgency for the past three decades, Bikol is an ideal site for the exercise, because of its areas in terms of land, sea and air.

The provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate are considered hot spots as far as the insurgency problem is concerned. Bernardo said the joint military exercise would be beneficial to both countries since they would learn new techniques in medical and engineering services.

He said the exercise would include among others humanitarian missions such as construction of school buildings, water system facilities and farm-to-market roads with medical and dental mission components. (PNA)