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EastMinCom chief says COVID-19 won’t curtail operations vs. Reds

The Commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the COVID-19 pandemic would not distract them from going after the New People’s Army guerrillas.

Lt. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. said they will ride on their momentum following the series of clashes that killed close to 30 communist fighters this month alone.

“We continuously devote some of our personnel and resources to fight COVID-19 and support other frontliners,” Faustino told TIMES on Saturday. “While doing so, we are not slowing down on our task of securing the communities from NPA atrocities.”

He said that the programs of the Task Force in Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict, which focused on providing government basic services to the far-flung communities, has been reaping gains in terms of “clearing of areas from the communist influence.”

The gains have shown that they are on the right path. “Just continue what we are doing and serve our purpose on how we can serve our people and protect our areas of responsibility,” he said.

What the military does not want is for the NPA to take advantage of the situation and use it to fuel their propaganda machine. He explained, “We help in any way we could give when it comes to COVID-19, especially our assistance to the local government units. At the same time, our internal security operation against these terrorist NPAs will continue.”

According to the military, seventy-seven members of the New People’s Army, including top leaders, were neutralized by the soldiers under the EastMinCom in May.

Lt. Col. Ezra Balagtey, the EastMinCom spokesperson, as of mid-May, 24 were already killed, 11 captured, and 42 fighters surrendered. Their accomplishment also included the recovery and surrender of 96 firearms and the overrun of NPA camps.

On May 10, he said 10 rebels were killed and five high-powered firearms were recovered at encounter sites when troops from the Joint Task Force Diamond figured in a running gunbattle with the NPA at the boundary of Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Norte.

On May 12, the 1st Special Forces Battalion also captured a machine gun during a series of clashes with the NPA at Sitio Kimutya, San Rafael, Talakag, Bukidnon.

In Davao Oriental, elements of the 28th Infantry Battalion, recovered two Garand rifles, one M16 rifle, one AR15 rifle, and one Ultimax MK3 Machine Gun in Barangay Maragatas, Lupon on the evening of May 16, during a pursuit operation.

In a separate event, elements of the 36th IB recovered one landmine, two-way radio, and personal belongings from a guerilla hideout in Cabangahan, Cantilan, Surigao Del Sur.

On May 18, 2020, one rebel was killed during a 45-minute clash at 11:30 a.m. in Barangay Siagao, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.

“While most of us are busy fighting COVID-19, we do not want to give the NPAs space and time to take advantage of the situation to carry out their evil plans and atrocities that will add misery to our communities,” Faustino said in his directive.

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