President Rodrigo Duterte knew where to hit the hardest in order to assure the security and safety of his people.
As the Chief Executive is to deliver his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SoNA) today at the House of Representatives, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año summed up the gains of the President’s national security program by stating: “More Filipinos feel secure, and are confident with their law enforcers”.
Año, who oversees the National Police among others, was citing American survey and analysis company Gallup’s findings in 2020 that stated eight of 10 Filipinos now feel secure.
The DILG chief said the country’s total crime volume dropped from 520,641 in 2017 to only 383,189 in 2020.
“We have also seen a consistent downtrend in the number of index crimes – such as murder, homicide, rape, and robbery; while incidents of theft registered almost a 50 percent decrease in 2020,” he said.
Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief, attributed the country’s “improved” peace and order situation
— partly — to the war against drugs.
“Illegal drugs are usually the root of crimes. That’s why we intensified the anti-drug campaign to ensure safer neighborhoods and communities, where residents feel safer that they would not become victims of crimes,” he said.
Año said the government had indeed gained much ground against the drug menace but admitted that much has yet to be done.
In a pre-SoNA forum, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also reported gains against insurgency and terrorism.
Among these, he said, was the reduction of kidnapping activities by Islamic militants in the south, especially at the maritime borders with Indonesia and Malaysi
Sixteen such incidents were recorded in 2016, and the number gradually went down to just one in 2020, he said.
Lorenzana also reported that 18,433 communist rebels, militia, and supporters had surrendered. They yielded 1,924 firearms.
“By offering social assistance to rebels who return to the fold of the law, we have greatly reduced threats from armed groups which have been hampering inclusive economic growth for more than 50 years now,” he said.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., said for his part that 2,695 members of the communist movement were either killed or arrested during clashes with government forces and in law enforcement operations.
Eighty of those “neutralized” were key national and regional leaders, he noted.
As of 2020, only about 3,706 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) remain, bearing 3,433 firearms, down from peak manpower of 25,200 in 1987, Esperon said.
Only 42 guerrilla fronts remain, down from 66 in 2018, while the number of barangays under their threat and influence now only stand at 678, he added.
Despite these developments, NPA members still managed to carry out attacks that left casualties and damage to property this year.
The attack on a police outpost that left five lawmen dead in Labo, Camarines Norte on 19 March was one.
That was followed by the death of two policemen and the wounding of 11 more during an ambush in Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro on 28 May.
Last 6 June, varsity football player Kieth Absalon and his cousin Nolven were killed in an ambush, also by the NPA, in Masbate City.
On 15 July, rebels attacked a mining site in Claver, Surigao del Norte, burning some P50 million worth of heavy equipment.
The Armed Forces reported that 372 communist rebels were killed, captured, or have surrendered from May to June, only this year.
It also said 114 members of the Abu Sayyaf, 124 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and 40 members of the Dawlah Islamiyah, were “neutralized” from 1 January to 30 June.
Some of those groups’ more notorious leaders, like Abu Sayyaf sub-commander and bomb plotter Mudzrimar “Mundi” Sawadjaan, however, remain at large.
As for territorial defense, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. maintained that the Duterte administration has not surrendered a single inch of territory, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.
“Not by word or deed have we weakened our right to everything in the West Philippine Sea. Without inviting pity by asking, we achieved an international consensus that the right is with us and might cannot take it away.”
Locsin also maintained the administration’s diplomatic approach to the territorial dispute.
“Just because we have differences, does not mean we have to fight over everything. But fight we will, when we must.”
Lorenzana, for his part, said the Duterte’s administration’s biggest legacy to the defense sector was the procurement of new equipment, including those that are now being used to patrol far-flung territories.
Some 575 naval surface patrols and 186 air patrols were carried out in 2020 alone, because of the improvement in deterrence capabilities, he said.
Earlier, the Department of National Defense reported that 6,309 naval surface patrols and 6,090 maritime air patrols have been conducted since 2016.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana recently disclosed that those patrols “challenged” more than 370,000 vessels transiting the country’s seas.
It can be recalled that jets and Coast Guard ships were used to drive away a flotilla of more than 300 Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef in March. Authorities claim that only a few of those foreign vessels remain.
The latest encounter reported was between the PCG vessel BRP Cabra and a Chinese Navy ship bearing the pennant number 189 at Marie Louise Bank last 13 July. The Cabra managed to drive the larger ship away.