Saturday, January 11, 2014

Army, local execs press return of Army brigade in NE town

BONGABON, Nueva Ecija – Military and local officials have pressed for the return of an Army brigade in this town amid the clamor by concerned citizens and peace advocates who expressed fears its continued absence could trigger the resurgence of the New People’s Army in the province and two adjoining provinces.

Mayor Allan Xystus Gamilla said negotiations to relocate the headquarters of the 702nd Infantry Brigade in Barangay Calaanan here are on-going.

Gamilla said Gen. Vic Castro, 702nd IB commander, has been talking with other military officials to effect the transfer of the brigade headquarters from Binmaley, Pangasinan back to Calaanan, where it was based for 25 years.

“Talks are on-going and on our end, we are also negotiating with the owner of the land where the former brigade headquarters used to stand to have him donate a parcel of his land for this purpose,” he said.

The brigade headquarters were set up in 1987 in Calaanan – some eight kilometers from the town proper - through a donation made by Navy Captain Rosendo Herrera. But the brigade relocated in Binmaley in 2012 after Herrera bared plans to sell the land housing the brigade to prospective buyers.

The brigade was replaced by a 74-man 56th Infantry Battalion formerly stationed in Baler, Aurora and a reconnaissance company from the 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay.

Gamilla said the municipal government is also negotiating with Herrera to donate two hectares of the four-hectare area for the planned return of the brigade headquarters. He said the much smaller 56th IB does not have enough manpower to cope with internal security threats.

“Besides, their lean force of only 74 men are even farmed out to different areas,” he said.

Gamilla said that since the 702nd brigade pulled out its forces, this created a big impact in the community, particularly as it used to control the tri-boundaries of Aurora, Nueva Vizcaya and this province, which used to be known strongholds.

He recalled that when Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista was still its brigade commander, the three provinces were cleared of NPA presence. But when the brigade pulled out its troops and moved its base to Pangasinan, they have noticed an increase in rebel activities in these areas.      

In 2012, Gamilla’s mother, former three-term mayor Amelia Gamilla, objected to the transfer of the Army camp and appealed to  Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Bautista to order it returned.

She said the return of the 702nd IB has been the popular clamor not only of the people of her town but also in nearby areas, particularly with the spate of incidents involving rebels, including the burning of heavy equipment in Barangay Villa, which also led to the death of an employee of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

          The elder Gamilla said Gazmin assured her he would talk to Herrera and try to convince him not to sell the land.

          She said that when Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. became commanding general of the 7th ID, the brigade was suddenly transferred and its forces pulled out of the town.

Catapang has since been named commanding general of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) based in Camp Aquino in Tarlac.

          The Gamillas said the brigade has helped the municipality and nearby towns and provinces not only to become successful in the counter-insurgency operations and in the maintenance of peace and order but also in forest protection and community service. - Manny Galvez

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