Tacloban City, July 21, 2003 By Miriam Garcia Desacada (Star)  The bigger, the better.

Maj. Gen. Glenn Rabonza, commanding officer of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division, disclosed yesterday that military detachments in Eastern Visayas will be beefed up to withstand New People’s Army (NPA) attacks and, as much as possible, go after the rebels.

Rabonza told a media forum his decision to add more muscle to military outposts came after the June 23 attack by almost 200 NPA rebels at a camp in Barangay Cagpili in Oras, Eastern Samar which was manned by a platoon of soldiers and several Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) members.

The attack left 10 militiamen, five soldiers and a female civilian — reportedly a soldier’s wife — dead.

"This is the purpose: to become stronger and take the offensive," Rabonza said. "Patrol bases will be consolidated into a big military camp that will be installed at designated areas."

Eastern Visayas, he said, now has five Army battalions and three brigades ready to fight the rebels and go after them.

However, despite adding more brawn to Army bases in the region, Rabonza recognized the need for community leaders and the ordinary folk to help the government resolve the insurgency problem.

The Armed Forces has ranked Eastern Visayas seventh in terms of NPA resurgence. Rebel activities in the region have reportedly increased by at least 28 percent since 2000.

During the recent visit of President Arroyo, the military reported at least six municipalities in Eastern Samar with strong NPA presence.

Rabonza identified them as Balangiga, Hernani, Giporlos, Llorente, Borongan and Balangkayan.

He also noted that an increasing number of minors are being involved in the conflict.

He said NPA fighters are becoming younger, lured by the adventure posed by battling soldiers and living in the mountains.

Meanwhile, Rabonza debunked reports that the Army has ordered a revamp of its top officers in the region in line with its re-strengthening strategy.

He said the reassignment of Brigadier Generals Eusebio Ramos and Rafael Romero and 30 other officers, including some generals, has nothing to do with the series of rebel attacks in Eastern Visayas but was just part of the normal rotation of military officers.

Rabonza said the movement was also partly due to the need to refill vacant positions left by retiring personnel.

Ramos, the commanding general of the 802nd Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Burauen, Leyte, will be replaced by Col. Juanito Cabayao, commanding officer of the 402nd IB in Agusan del Sur.

Ramos will be Rabonza’s deputy and will hold office at the 8th ID headquarters at Camp Lukban in Catbalogan, Samar.

Romero, on the other hand, will be transferred to Camp Aguinaldo as assistant deputy chief of staff for education and training. Replacing him is Col. Napoleon Malang, the 8th ID’s chief of staff, as the commanding officer of the 801st IB.

Rabonza said the latest changing of the guards would not hamper the military’s drive in Eastern Visayas to neutralize the NPA.

He added that their campaign would be done through a "left hand, right hand approach" as ordered by the President.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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