The killing of eight Army troopers and five others including one policeman last November 11 in the vicinity of Lanuza and San Miguel towns in Surigao del Sur has finally given the military and government the excuse to jack up the intensity of its counterinsurgency operations all over the province.
The thirteen causalities were lost in the aftermath of a carefully laid ambush executed by New People's Army guerrillas that saw a landmine explosion hitting a two vehicle convoy sent to reinforce a detachment of armed militiamen assigned to the Surigao Development Corporation (SUDECOR) near Barangay Pakwan also in Lanuza town which had earlier also been attacked by NPA insurgents.
The high cost exacted on the local military forces by the success of the "lure and ambush" tactics employed by the NPA, as evidenced by the recent ambuscade, has shaken the military leadership. As a consequence, reliable sources have revealed that the commanding officers of the 401st Brigade and the 58th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army which have operational jurisdiction over the province have been quietly relieved and replaced although nothing formal can be heard yet from the media or from the military high command.
Time and time again in the past, especially in the 1970's and 80's, the armed forces has lost many of their men to the classic NPA guerrilla stratagem whereby rebel forces harass an isolated military outpost and then launch the main attack on hapless troops trying to reinforce their beleaguered companions.
The fact that the local military commanders would fall for an overused guerrilla tactic with disastrous and tragic results has caused many local observers here to doubt the capacity of local military units to gain the upper hand in the continuing insurgency war where this province is a flash point. This is despite the fact local security forces here have been already augmented to more than brigade size and should have superiority over the rebel insurgents in terms of men, training and equipment.
What is also obvious is that after more than three decades of fighting the communist insurgency, military forces in Surigao del Sur have, to a large extent, continue to remain the Tom to the NPA's Jerry. Like in the classic cartoon skit of the infinitely devious mouse running circles around the hapless cat, government troops have, time and time again, suffered heavy casualties in many military operations characterized by hasty planning and critical tactical blunders by their leadership.
The loss of at least more than a dozen men in the recent ambush and the wounding of more than a dozen more in subsequent pursuit and follow up operations has brought to the fore, once again, the tragic fact that brave men are losing their lives and shedding their precious blood in a senseless war that the government and the military leadership is not handling well and might even be incapable of winning.
This year is about to end and the first decade of the 21st century will end next year but as far as the local insurgency war is concerned, the carnage continues and nothing has really been resolved. The NPA and the communist revolutionary movement has been described by top security officials of the Arroyo administration as a "waning force, a revolution bereft of an ideology and bandits masquerading as revolutionaries." Yet, in Surigao del Sur at least, it has proven itself capable of kicking the armed forces of the state in the balls when it wants to, where it wants to and then get away with it.