Nature and objectives of the AFP’s FMOs in Bukidnon


The Armed Forces of the Philippines launched no less than 13 campaigns of focused military operations, or one every month, in the province of Bukidnon from March 2018 to January 2019.

This was the principal shape of the AFP’s attempt to encircle and “decimate” units of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the province before the end of 2018. Midyear 2018, on August 7, the AFP declared it as “conflict manageable” and “ready for projects.”

Battalions of the 403rd IBde under the 4th ID scour the mountains of Bukidnon. Five battalions (8th IB, 88th IB, 1st Special Forces Battalion, 65th IB and 58th IB) operate in the central and western parts of the province, its boundaries with Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Sur, and its boundary with Lanao del Sur. The 43rd Division Reconnaissance Company supports its operations. In early 2019, the 1003rd IBde of the 10th ID announced that it will once again operate in barrios and communities in Bukidnon’s borders with Davao, although combat operations of the 89th IB and 16th IB have been recorded in the area since 2017.

In addition, Scout Ranger, Special Forces and CAFGU graduates use the province as training ground, particularly the Pantaron Range which cuts through six provinces (Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur) and serve as the backbone of Mindanao.

Nature of FMOs

An FMO is conducted for six days to two weeks, and launched after long periods of intelligence, psywar and Community Operations for Peace and Development (COPD) operations in barrios. Actual combat operations involve 150-400 troops and are directed at the brigade up to the division level.

In combat maneuvers, columns converge from different areas to assist each other. In an FMO last December 2018, no less than 20 enemy columns were mobilized. The main force came from an unlikely staging point (a few-day trek through a difficult terrain). The troops hiked through trails believed as sites favorable to the NPA. They conceal themselves for up to two weeks while encircling the target area.

The AFP employed this style in its encirclement campaign in the boundary of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Sur. Up to 400 troopers scoured the jungles between two barangays (Barangay Minalwang of Claveria, Misamis Oriental and Barangay Hagpa of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon) for two weeks. A few weeks prior, the main force had started trekking from Barangay Salog in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.

In brigade-level operations, the AFP dumps three to four columns (150 troopers) in the target area. In division-level operations, where some of the columns start outside the province, five columns with 2-3 sections are mobilized. Each column is headed by a lieutenant.

Prior to the actual encirclement, the AFP mobilize spies who penetrate targeted barrios. They are usually disguised as ambulant vendors who sell various products. The AFP also deploys its paramilitaries to look for traces and other marks in forests. The AFP uses information from captured Red fighters to pinpoint the location of tactical bases or encampments of NPA units.

Surveillance aircrafts and drones are flown overhead few weeks prior and during the height of combat operations. It has been reported that a small manned-plane (Cessna), two types of white medium-altitude drones (similar to the US Reaper or Predator) and smaller drones (similar to ScanEagles) were employed. The Reaper-type drone is believed to be owned and directly operated by the US military that is stationed in the country.

In areas where ground troops cannot easily maneuver, they are supported from the air using two kinds of attack helicopters (MG-520 and AugustaWestland 109E) from the Tactical Operations Wing (Group 10) of the Eastern Mindanao Command based in Cagayan de Oro. A UH-1H (Huey) helicopter is also utilized to drop food supplies, medicine and troop reinforcements. During encounters, enemy troops are supported by artillery fire and 105mm howitzers.

Military troops use Harris radio for encrypted communications. Coordination between troopers is tight, from platoons to sections. Their tactical operations bases are set-up in plains (but are sometimes positioned in higher terrains to serve as observer posts) and serve as medical stations where their wounded are provided first aid. In a campaign last December, for example, a helicopter landing zone was cleared next to the operational center perched at the highest point of target area.

Expenses reach millions

If calculated, the AFP spends up to more than P10 million every two weeks for its troops, bullets, and mortar shells in its FMOs in the province. This excludes expenses for other items such as rifles, machine guns, telescopes, radios, backpacks, uniforms and boots; operational equipment such as base radios, generators, tool kits and others; medical supplies and equipment such as medicines and ambulances; transportations costs using six-by-six trucks (a minimum of 20 are used per FMO).

At the minimum, the AFP spends P3-million worth of bullets per operation. An M16 and M14 bullet costs P25 each, while a Squad Automatic Weapon bullet costs P35 each. In one of its encirclement campaigns in 2018, 13 encounters ensued between its soldiers and NPA units (both defensives and offensives). Meanwhile, each mortar costs P10,000.

Millions are also spent for aerial combat support, bombings and strafing operations, which usually hit small farms and surrounding forests. US Air Force calculations in 2013 indicate that the costs per flight hour of a Huey and a medium-altitude drone are $13,634 (P681,700 at the exchange of P50=$1) and $3,624-$4,762 (or P181,200 to P238,100), respectively. At least 82 personnel are needed to operate and analyze data generated by these drones. Meanwhile, an attack helicopter rocket can cost P1,500 (Warhead M151) to P3,500 (Warhead M282) each. (Note: An MG-520 can launch up to seven rockets per sortie.)

In addition to these are expenses for the delivery of food supply, medical support, evacuation of dead and wounded soldiers, and setting up command centers, among others.

Encirclement operations ”for development”

Encirclement campaigns are launched in the mountains of and other areas in Bukidnon to pave way for the construction of infrastructure projects such as big dams and energy plants and commercial plantations. These aim to “clear” such areas of NPA presence so that companies can enter and evict residents. These areas are agricultural lands and ancestral lands Lumad communities are situated.

In March 2019, the AFP, together with Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security for Region 10 Martin Andanar, inaugurated the Convergence Areas for Peace and Development (CAPDev) in Iba, Cabanglasan. This program is in line with the “whole-of-nation approach” bandied around by the National Task Foce to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. The Mindanao PeaceDev Coordinating Group administers the CAPDev, a group dominated by officials of the 1st, 4th and 10th ID, and the 403rd IBde and 2nd Mechanized IBde, together with regional offices of the Philippine National Police, Department of Interior and Local Government, and National Economic and Development Authority.

CAPDev covers the following ranges in the province: Mt. Saldab and Kalabugao plains in Impasug-ong, Pantaron Range and Umayam Complex in Cabanglasan and San Fernando, Kitanglad in Sumilao and Baungon, Kalatungan between Talakag and Pangantucan and the West Bukidnon plains. These areas have long been targeted for energy projects and commercial plantations of big bourgeois compradors and their foreign cohorts.

In 2018, no less than 41 energy plants, mostly in large rivers (hydro), were reportedly being planned, under development or already operating in the province. Biggest of these is the planned Pulangi Dam V (250MW) in Kitaotao. The dam is estimated to submerge 40,000 hectares of ancestral and agricultural lands, as well as forests in the borders of Bukidnon and North Cotabato. These projects also include two hydropower plants in the Tagoloan River in Santiago, Manolo Fortich which are operated by Hedcor Bukidnon of the bourgeois-comprador Aboitiz family.

The Kalabugao plains, particularly, have long been auctioned by the reactionary state to foreign developers as an area for the expansion of their commercial plantation. Bukidnon hosts large pineapple and banana plantations owned by Del Monte, DavCo and Dole. These plantations cover whole communities in Manolo Fortich, Sumilao, Impasug-ong, Libona, Lantapan, Maramag and Quezon. Del Monte plans to expand its operations in Talakag.

Also, the Pantaron, Kitanglad and Kalatungan ranges are covered by the bogus National Greening Program. The reactionary state has long opened the forests therein to plunder by mining and logging corporations.

The province is also expected to receive of millions of funds for infrastructure projects. These include the airport project in Don Carlos which has destroyed hundreds of hectares of ricefields. The Mindanao Road Sector Project will also cuts across the province and hit farms and displace hundreds of peasants. The latter project costs P25.3 billion, most of which will be loaned from the Asian Development Bank.

Planned road and bridge projects will be constructed not to benefit ordinary people but only to ease transportation of products from the province to ports and factories. For instance, a road was constructed in Alae, Manolo Fortich to cut short transport time of products from commercial plantations in Bukidnon to the Mindanao Container Terminal in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental. Meanwhile, two other road projects, the Laak-San Fernando and Mactan-Miaray, are being actively opposed by Lumads as these will cut across their communities.

The mountains of Bukidnon are not merely the ancestral lands of tribes in the province but are also the source of their livelihood. Two large rivers (Pulangi and Tagoloan) originate here and supply water and irrigation to the entire province. These also serve as Mindanao’s watershed and supplies 25% of the island’s energy needs.

Nature and objectives of the AFP’s FMOs in Bukidnon