THE Philippine National Police (PNP) in Negros Oriental has assured residents of hinterland barangays in the north of the province that the police and military are undertaking measures to ensure the safety and security of the public.
The statement came amid reports of fresh sightings of suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in the north.
Provincial Police Director Edwin Portento said the Philippine Army and the PNP are coordinating their efforts to conduct monitoring, patrolling and similar operations in the municipality of Bindoy and adjacent areas to include Ayungon, among others.
Portento assured that the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army is on top of the situation.
He also assured that the PNP has troops to complement those from the military in responding to reports from hinterland residents of the presence of armed groups there believed to be NPA members.
Portento does not believe reports that the NPA members have reached 600 in number, because he said that would be impossible to “feed,” let alone to converge in just one or a few adjacent villages.
“That is an exaggeration,” he said, adding he does not believe that the NPA is capable of putting together a force of that size.
Residents from Nalundan, Bindoy, and other neighboring “sitios” (sub-villages) have expressed fear because of the armed men allegedly coming to their homes to either ask for food or to spend the night there.
Some teachers have complained that a few parents have stopped sending their children to school, while other residents have reportedly fled their villages.
But Portento cautioned against spreading unverified information as this might cause unnecessary panic while authorities are still out to ascertain these reports.
Residents, however, who asked not to be identified, have expressed fear because if not addressed immediately, the insurgency problem in these hinterland villages in the past years could resurface.
They also expressed concern because of the presence of uniformed personnel with firearms in their villages, but do not know whether these are legitimate military/police operatives or insurgents.
“Siguro, nagkakaroon lang ng confusion ang mga tawo doon (perhaps the people there are just confused),” Portento said, adding “they need not fear especially because we are doing something about it.”
"Of course, di naman natin pwedeng i-divulge sa public yung operation plan nila (we cannot divulge the operation plan of the Army). And we expect their (people’s) cooperation regarding the presence of the alleged NPA members in these hinterland villages," Portento said.
“There is nothing for them (the people) to worry about,” he added.
The PNP director also confirmed that they are conducting regular checkpoints, but he does not believe the NPA members would be traversing national highways except probably for those bringing provisions to the hinterlands.
Portento also said he was invited to the joint peace and order council meeting of the municipalities of Manjuyod, Ayungon, Bindoy, and Tayasan next week to discuss the reported presence of purported NPA members in the hinterlands of these adjacent towns.
Ayungon Mayor Edsel Enardecido, who heads the League of Municipalities in Negros Oriental, recently corroborated the statements of the residents in these towns that armed men were, indeed, sighted in recent weeks there and who have been visiting homes asking for food. (PNA)