Vice President Sara Duterte has been named the co-vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), according to NTF-ELCAC Vice Chairperson and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año on Wednesday.
“The NTF-ELCAC Execom has approved the designation of Vice President Sara Duterte as co-vice chairperson of the Task Force. Her unstinting commitment in the cause of NTF-ELCAC will undoubtedly be very valuable to the Task Force and we thank her for accepting the challenge,” Año said in a press conference.
As a task force under the Office of the President, the NTF-ELCAC is chaired by the Chief Executive.
Asked if Duterte's new position will strengthen the monitoring of alleged recruitment activities in schools—the Vice President is also Education Secretary—Año replied, “With the effort now of the DepEd Secretary, in fact nakita natin ito 'yung mga schools na ginagamit ng kabila ay naipasara [we have seen that the schools used by the other side have been closed].”
He said that Duterte is “well-experienced” as a former local executive.
“Ang ating vice president ay napaka well-experienced, being the former mayor of Davao City. As what she said a while ago, na ang kaniyang mga experiences ay magagamit niya para mai-share. At yung mga best practices na pwedeng magamit ng ibat-ibang mga ahensya na involved dito sa NTF-ELCAC,” Año said.
(Our vice president is very well-experienced, being the former mayor of Davao City, from which she can use her experiences to share, including the best practices that can be used by the various agencies involved in NTF-ELCAC.)
“With her as the co-vice chairperson of the NTF-ELCAC, malaking tulong siya para magsupervise, hindi lamang sa mga 12 clusters kundi pati na rin sa mga designated cabinet officers to supervise regional peace and development and peace development in the different regions,” he added.
(With her as the co-vice chairperson of the NTF-ELCAC, she will be a great help to supervise not only the 12 clusters but also the designated cabinet officers to supervise regional peace and development and peace development in the different regions.)
'Bringers of peace'
Asked if Duterte's addition to the task force will bring more fear to insurgents, Año said that they are "bringers of peace."
“Sabi nga, tayo ay bringers of peace, ang mga matatakot lang siguro diyan ay yung mga armadong hard core na ayaw talagang magsurrender. We will use the full force of the government’s resources and the full force of the law,” he said.
(We are bringers of peace, the only people who will be afraid of that are the armed hard cores who really don't want to surrender. We will use the full force of the government's resources and the full force of the law.)
“But ang ating pinaka-layunin dito is actually, maenganyo nating magsurrender ang ating mga natitira pa diyan na mga nasa bundok and at the same time, to be able to bring also the services and intra-projects to the influenced barangays and cleared barangay to be part of the BDP (barangay development program),” he added.
(But our main goal here is actually, we can persuade those of us who are still in the mountains to surrender and at the same time, to be able to bring also the services and intra-projects to the influenced barangays and cleared barangays to be part of the BDP.)
Red-tagging, unfinished projects
The controversial task force has been accused of red-tagging government critics—particularly during Duterte's father Rodrigo Duterte's administration, when the task force targeted schools, progressive groups, and even then-vice president Leni Robredo. In the final days of the elder Duterte's term, then-Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra urged individuals associated with the NTF-ELCAC to refrain from red-tagging individuals without evidence.
It has also been dinged for having completed only a few of the more than 2,300 projects in its barangay development fund.
Last week, the National Security Council said that President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. will not abolish the NTF-ELCAC.
"As Chair of the NTF ELCAC, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is firmly committed to the whole of nation approach to finally ending Communist terrorism in the country and he, in fact, has directed the Task Force to intensify its efforts since we have already attained strategic victory over the CPP-NPA-NDF," NSC Assistant Director-General Jonathan Malaya said.
Año also reiterated the task force's earlier assessment that at least 75% of all NPA guerilla fronts have been dismantled, with only 22 of the original 89 fronts are still extant.
Of the 22 left, he said, 20 are weakened while the remaining two are the subject of focused military operations and development efforts by NTF-ELCAC agencies.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff General Andres Centino said those weakened fronts are armed groups that have no mass base, while the active fronts still had armed groups and mass base.
“These two active fronts are in the island of Samar, it's actually in Northern Samar. And in that regard, we really flew forces from cleared areas in Western Mindanao and added battalions of infantry units to Samar to help out our campaign there. As for the timeline, within the year we will be able to address these remaining active fronts,” he said.
The other weakened fronts are in the areas of Bicol, Caraga, Masbate, Negros, and Panay, he added.
“We have sufficient forces to address these threats and aside from the units we transferred, nagdagdag din tayo ng mga [we added] combat support units and the capabilities para pagtulungan talaga natin [to help them] and we have engaged in local governments making them understand that the solution to the problem in insurgency is [not just to] take the military approach; it has to be holistic and needs the help of everyone in the community,” he added.
Año, meanwhile, also congratulated the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the arrest of Dindo “Ka Ruel” Monsanto, a suspect in the deaths of Far Eastern University football player Kieth Absalon and his cousin, labor leader Nolven Absalon, who were killed by an improvised explosive device in Masbate City in 2021.
Monsanto was allegedly the commanding officer of the Regional Operations Command of the Bicol Region Party Committee, and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front. — BM, GMA Integrated News