TACLOBAN CITY, (PNA) –– Five towns of rebel-infested Northern Samar province have been jointly declared by the provincial government and the Philippine Army as manageable conflict-affected and development-ready areas.
Governor Jose Ong, Jr. declared on Thursday the towns of Allen, Biri, Capul, San Antonio and San Vicente ‘insurgency-free’ after noting zero rebel activities for the past several years.
“The significance of this occasion goes beyond the assurance that the constituents of these municipalities can live happier in these secured areas. The absence of insurgency is vitally more significant as it will pave the way for the launching of more development projects,” Ong said.
Brig. Gen Jet B. Velarmino, commander of the Philippine Army’s 8th infantry division, attributed the achievement to the participation of local residents.
“As we join them in their victory, I also encourage each and every resident of Northern Samar to sustain what you have started. Let us nurture what we have just achieved and commit ourselves to winning the peace,” Velarmino added.
These towns are located in the northwestern part of the province are all island municipalities except for Allen, the region’s gateway to Luzon.
These areas are now considered as tourist destinations. Biri is known for rock formations. The towns of Capul, San Antonio and San Vicente are endowed with white and pink beaches.
The Philippine Army said they are on track in making the provinces of Samar and Northern Samar insurgent-free by 2016.
Capt. Amado Gutierrez, spokesman of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division, is optimistic of significantly minimizing New People’s Army activities in the two economically-depressed provinces of Samar by 2016.
Of the six provinces in Region 8, four have already been declared as insurgent-free, these are Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, and Southern Leyte.
The Army official could not give exact estimate of the strength of the insurgents operating in Samar since many of them come to Samar from Bicol and move back to Bicol.
The absence of road networks in the tri-boundaries of the island and lack of education, make people vulnerable to the influence of communist-rebels.
Samar and Northern Samar registered the lowest simple literacy rates in Eastern Visayas at 85.4 percent and 88.3 percent, respectively, according to the National Statistics Office.