With 822 former New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla bases cleared of communists and turned into progressive communities through the Barangay Development Program (BDP) of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the same development efforts will be replicated in Bicol, Samar, Caraga, and Western Visayas.
National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr., also the director general of the National Security Council, said the BDP is a socio-economic development program earmarked for areas cleared of the NPA wherein the inclusive major programs are farm-to-market roads, construction of school buildings, installation of water and sanitation systems and health stations, and the launch of livelihood programs.
Esperon said most of the barangays cleared from 2016 to 2019 were from Mindanao.
“So the BDP is currently in Mindanao to develop formerly conflicted remote areas. Next year, most of the BDP will be for Bicol, Samar, Caraga and Western Visayas,” he added.
“By transforming former areas of conflict, we are now one step closer to our collective aspiration as Filipinos for sustainable grassroots development and lasting peace,” he said.
“These programs are precisely what formerly affected communities have asked for. In fact, these programs address issues commonly exploited by the NPA,” said Esperon.
Allegations of possible misuse of the multi-billion BDP funds in preparation for the 2022 presidential elections have been raised, even referring to the fund as the “pork barrel” of the generals.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite also said that the entire Davao region would receive P4.3 billion, with Davao City, the President’s hometown, getting P1.6 billion, or almost 40 percent of the fund allocated for the region.
Esperon belied these allegations. He said that while Davao City is the largest city in the country with a land area bigger than Metro Manila and Rizal province combined, it is not as highly-urbanized and maintains a typical rural scenery in most parts of the city. And despite its big land area,
“The fact remains that there are numerous isolated and remote barangays within the City. Hence, with the large land area of Davao City, there still is a need for development and infrastructure for the growth of the City,” said Esperon.
The Davao region, composed of four provinces, is characterized by mountain ranges with irregular plateaus and lowlands, according to Esperon, thus making it an ideal hiding place for rebels.
The eastern part of Mindanao where the Davao region is located has long been considered as a stronghold of the NPA, and has been the battleground for heavy and bloody skirmishes between the rebels and security forces.
Esperon said that of the five Regional Party Committees of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA in Mindanao, four are located in eastern Mindanao.
He said two of the most active Regional Party Committees—the Southern Regional Party Committee and the Far South Regional Party Committee—are operating in Davao region.
“Of particular concern to our security forces is that within Davao City, there is an existing armed unit, the Pulang Bagani Command (PBC),” said Esperon.
Esperon said guerrilla fronts of the CPP-NPA aim to expand the influence and control over a population within a specified territory through a political structure and its armed elements.
“Guerrilla Fronts are vital to the operations of the NPA, particularly in Davao Region. Guerrilla Fronts control access to barangays where they exert influence over, thereby preventing developmental projects from entering their strongholds,” he added.
“This leads to a cycle of poverty, isolation, disease, hunger, and lack of educational and livelihood opportunities, thereby hindering growth and prosperity among the affected population,” he added.
Esperon said dismantling the Guerilla Fronts necessitates a comprehensive process involving coordination between security operations and developmental intervention projects.
From 2016, a total of four Guerrilla Fronts were dismantled in Davao City, two in Davao de Oro, three in Davao del Norte and two in Davao Occidental and one in Davao del Sur.
“The Left say we are favoring Davao City with more BDP funds compared to other regions. The truth is, Mindanao was designated a priority for clearing operations because NPAs have grown so strong,” he added. It is only in Mindanao where the NPA maintains a CPP-NPA Territorial Commission.
Esperon said the construction of schools in Davao region is also important since the CPP-NPA has already set up schools in some parts of the region purposely to strengthen their recruitment efforts.
He tagged the Salugpungan Schools as an operating arm of the NPA to recruit indigenous children into armed conflict as child soldiers of the NPA.
“In fact, seven out of 10 NPAs in Eastern Mindanao are recruited from these Indigenous Peoples communities. Particularly in Davao City, there is a need for school buildings to replace the Salugpungan Schools which operated as NPA schools,” said Esperon.
For the Davao region alone, Esperon said there are more than 55 Salugpungan Schools.