Foiled FMO in Agusan del Norte

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is covering up the failure of its focused military operation (FMO) at Mt. Hilong-hilong in North Eastern Mindanao last month to brag and save face. This was the statement of Ka Sandara Sidlakan, spokesperson of the New People’s Army (NPA)-North Eastern Mindanao Region, on September 4.

Mt. Hilong-hilong is located at the triboundary of Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur. It is part of the Diwata mountain range and provides habitat for various species of fauna and flora.

The 402nd IBde launched its FMO from July 20 to August 15 using its 29th IB and 36th IB, together with elements of the Philippine National Police Caraga and CAFGU. The said operation served as a test mission of the 11th and 12th Scout Ranger Company. In sum, 1,000 troops of the AFP and PNP were deployed during the operation. Similar to other FMOs, the military also used attack helicopters, artillery and drones for support.

The operation covered the towns of Sibagat in Agusan del Sur, Carmen, Cantilan, Madrid and San Miguel in Surigao del Sur and Remedios T. Romualdez (RTR) in Agusan del Norte. Troops were also deployed in the cities of Butuan and Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte. The said areas, particularly the town of Cantilan, is covered by destructive mining operations, including that of the Marcventures Mining Development Corporation has been permitted to operate in more than 4,799 hectares of forestlands. Its operation covers the central watershed which serves as a major source of water for irrigation and drinking across the region. Previously, the operation permit of the company has been suspended twice for damaging the environment.

The AFP bragged that its troops was able to overrun NPA “camps” even though these were only former tactical bases or Lumad farmlands. Actuallly, nine encounters ensued between AFP troops and NPA units from July 25 to August 12, wherein three soldiers were killed including a 29th IB lieutenant. Majority of enemy casualties were dealt in a demolition operation in the mountainous area of Barangay Mahaba, Cabadbaran City on August 12. A Red fighter was martyred during the encounters.

In retaliation, the AFP attacked civilian communities in barangays Mahaba and Puting Bato in Cabadbaran City. It bombed the said areas 15 times in four days. Bombs were also dropped in the areas using AugustaWestland helicopters. Huey helicopters were also used to evacuate wounded soldiers and deliver supplies for operating troopers.

Before and after the combat operation, the AFP militarized 15 barangays surrounding Mt. Hilong-hilong under the guise of “community organizing for peace and development” (COPD) operations. Using this as a pretext, soldiers besieged the barangays to coerce civilians to surrender, and intimidate and threaten them by repeatedly summoning them to barangay halls where troops are usually stationed. They often conduct house searches to coerce residents to “surrender” and pledge allegiance to them. In Barangay San Antonio in RTR, 29th IB troopers murdered farmer Roger Mandag on July 30. Earlier, he was repeatedly coerced by soldiers to surrender.