National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin led the signing of the declaration of Negros Oriental as “conflict manageable and development-ready province”, at the Negros Oriental Convention Center in Dumaguete City yesterday, a government press release said.

The activity is seen as a first step for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to take a supporting role, with the provincial and local government units and the Philippine National Police taking the lead in the anti-insurgency campaign.

Gazmin, who was joined by AFP, PNP, and LGU officials, called the achievement a victory of the “bayanihan” spirit for lasting peace in the country.

He assured the support of the national government to guarantee the sustainability of the status until Negros Oriental is declared insurgency-free.

Army officials in the province explained that the declaration means that the insurgency problem has been reduced to an insignificant level in Negros Oriental, with members of the New People’s Army, the armed component of the National Democratic Front/Communist Party of the Philippines, already dwindling.

Gazmin said the declaration is an accomplishment of the concerted efforts of the AFP, PNP, civil society groups, local governments and all other stakeholders, who contributed in achieving lasting peace.

Gazmin called the signing “historic,” and a reflection of the unity of the civil and military authorities in addressing insurgency in the province.

The military claimed that Negros Oriental is the only province in the Central Visayas that is still insurgency-affected. Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor have already been cleared of the problem.

The police, through its Regional Public Safety Battalion, will be deployed in areas already cleared of the insurgency, while Army troops will cover those still affected.

Present at the signing were Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo, Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto, chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council, AFP and PNP officials, Diocese of Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes, at least 10 mayors, led by Amlan Mayor Bentham dela Cruz, head of the provincial League of Mayors, rebel returnees, and representatives from various government agencies, non-government organizations, civil society and the private sector.*PNA