MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine military will step up efforts this year in two small-scale gold mining regions that have become the focus and funding source for a Maoist-led insurgency, defence and military officials said on Thursday.
Security forces are targeting dismantling guerrilla bases of the communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels around mining areas in Compostela Valley on the southern Mindanao island and northern mountains in Abra, Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said.
"I am now beginning to doubt the intentions of the communist rebels in these mining areas," Teodoro told Reuters at the country's main military base.
"It has become a business and their activities there are no longer in line with their ideology."
Teodoro, speaking after a review of the security situation, said extortion and protection rackets at the mining areas have been generating enough revenue to sustain the recruitment and operations across the country of the guerrillas -- they are active in 69 of 81 provinces nationwide.
Nearly 3 million ounces of gold have been extracted from mines around Compostela Valley in the last 23 years, according to the state-owned Philippine Mining Development Corporation.
The government is hoping to attract $10-13 billion in mining investments in the country by 2013 but legal uncertainties, disputes with local partners, opposition from the powerful Catholic church and Maoist guerrillas have stunted the inflow.
Apart from mine sites, the NPA guerrillas have also been attacking plantations, logging concessions, mobile phone facilities and construction companies to collect "revolutionary taxation", defence and military officials said.
Military chief General Alexander Yano said the the security forces have been told to substantially weaken the communist insurgency by mid-2010 when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo steps down from power, reducing by 80 percent the number of rebel bases, which stood at 107 in 2003.
Only 67 guerrilla bases were left at the end of 2008, Yano said, adding half of them were on their list to be dismantled in 2009 and the remaining half in 2010.
Last year, Yano said the military's anti-insurgency campaign was disrupted by the redeployment of troops to fight rogue Muslim rebels in the south as well as in disaster and relief efforts in other parts of the country.
Thus, the military failed to meet its target of destroying 40 guerrilla bases in 2008, Yano said, adding that high fuel prices also had an impact on military operations.
"It was a very difficult year for the armed forces fighting two fronts and serving our people through constructing houses, delivering rice, saving them from floods and doing a lot of non-traditional military things," Teodoro told reporters.