SARA DUTERTE: AFP, NPA clashes giving Davao City a bad image

 

INDAY SARA

Military should  review its combat heavy counter-insurgency strategy

By ROGER M. BALANZA

Even as Davao City continues to reap awards as one of the most competitive cities in the country, Mayor Sara Duterte has expressed alarm over sporadic clashes between government troopers and communist rebels in the city’s far-flung districts.

And she has put to task the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its “combat heavy” approach to fighting insurgency which she said is not the solution to the insurgency problem.

Mayor Duterte said confrontations between soldiers and New People’s Army rebels in the hinterlands project “disorder” which could destroy the image of the city.

Davao City being center of communication in Southern Mindanao and home to correspondents of national and international new agencies, the clashes are always carried by national and international news media.

This developed as Mayor Duterte earlier said that selling the city to foreign investors is a top priority of her administration, with plans afoot for tourism planners to go abroad on a selling blitz to showcase the city as an investment haven.

City information officer Bong Aportadera said the sporadic clashes could dim investors’ interest with media playing up the military-rebel encounters.

“Mayor Duterte is determined in taking the city one level up in terms of development and strong governance,” said Aportadera, whose office, along with the City Tourism Office and the Davao City Investment and Promotions Center (DCIPC), had been given marching orders by the mayor on the selling blitz.

Aportadera said that while the encounters are kilometers away from the urban centers, this could send a wrong signal to investors and tourists after being reported in media.

“We hope that the incidents would not escalate especially now that Davao City is moving towards more development in terms of tourism and investment,” he said.

Mayor Duterte said the combat operations against the NPAs are also counter-productive to all stakeholders. The protracted cat-and-mouse war only wasted the lives and properties of soldiers, lumads, rebels and local residents, she said.

In the end, she said the fighting is of no benefit to the local government whose image as a peaceful city could be tarnished.

Mayor Duterte said she would like a peaceful solution to the insurgency problem and urged the military to review its combat heavy counter-insurgency strategy.

For now, she has suspended material support to the 1003rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, which supervises counter-insurgency operations in the Davao Region.

Although dwindling in numbers, the NPA continues to have a presence in the districts of Toril, Tugbok, Calinan, Marilog and Paquibato, operating three fronts with a total number of 120 armed men.

Mayor Duterte said the military approach is not the solution to the insurgency problem, saying she would rather invest in luring back rebels to the folds of the law, educating the lumads and providing developmental programs and projects to the hinterland areas.

Brigadier General Eduardo del Rosario, commander of the 1003rd IB, said the military can live without the support of the local governments.

While he agreed with Mayor Duterte’s approach to solving the insurgency, he said the military approach is also needed to drive away the rebels

Del Rosario, who once headed Task Force Davao, the anti-terrorist special Army unit assigned here after the 2003 twin bombings of the Davao airport and the Sasa wharf, said: We would like the city to be peaceful and one way of achieving this is to drive away the rebels from here through the conduct of tactical operations.

Del Rosario said since January this year troopers traded bullets with rebels in Toril and Paquibato, where the NPA Fronts 52, 53 and 54 operate.

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