Nolcom spokesperson Maj. Rosendo Armas said that because of this, Nolcom “handed over” to the Tarlac provincial government the other day the military’s “primary internal security responsibility in the province.”
He said military and provincial officials signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) establishing a “partnership strengthening the internal security of Tarlac.”
The “handover” rites were held March 23 at the provincial capitol grounds in Tarlac City.
Armas also said the officials signed a “Joint Declaration of an Insurgency-Free Province”. The signatories included Tarlac Gov. Victor Yap, 7th infantry division commander Maj. Gen. Irineo Espino and Central Luzon police director Chief Supt. Arturo Cacdac Jr.
Tarlac is the fourth province to be declared insurgency free in the country, after Apayao, Aurora, and Quirino.
Nolcom chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David Jr., Brig. Gen. Gominto Pirino of the 701st Infantry Brigade, Col. Jose Caparas Jr of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, Senior Supt. Amador Corpuz of the Tarlac police, and Vice Gov. Marcelino Aganon Jr, also signed the declaration as witnesses.
David noted that the four provinces which are now insurgency free are all within the jurisdiction of Nolcom.
“Handover is possible when the local terrorists’ threat to the province’s stability, peace and order, and development has already been significantly reduced and relegated to inconsequential level, which means that the prevailing security situation is within the capacity and function of law enforcement,” Armas explained.
David expressed confidence that “the local government with able support from the police would not be able to take the lead role in internal security.”
In his visit here over the weekend, Defense Sec. Norberto Gonzales said the Arroyo government has “crushed” the NPA “in a major way”.
In 2004, the President ordered the military to “crush” the NPA by the end of her term this year. She repeated this mandate several times later.
“The armed forces has done enough in terms of reducing the number of NPA guerilla fronts. But as I have been saying, it is not our intention to defeat the NPA militarily. Actually, we would like to employ negotiations,” Gonzales said.
From 26,000 armed regulars at the start of the Aquino administration, the NPA’s strength has already been reduced to only 5,000 armed men, he said.
Gonzales said that peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA have been stalled by the change of leadership in the CPP.
“We had been negotiating with Jose Ma. Sison, but it turns out the CPP-NPA now regard the Tiongson couple as their leader. We don’t know where they are and the government has no communication with them,” he said.
Gonzales said that because of this situation, the government is appealing to all sectors nationwide to help convince individual members of the NPA to “return to the fold of law”, as he vowed government help for them.