Duterte warns communist rebels of 'trouble' in coming months

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, August 27, warned that "there will be trouble" for communist rebels "in the coming months," as the govenment ramps up its crackdown against the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army (NPA).

Speaking at the 31st anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, Duterte said that there will be a "very radical change" in the behavior of the government towards communist insurgents. He said he has asked the military to end it soon.

"You cannot win a fight for social justice or for a better life in your country if you go to revolution. It won't work. 'Di nga kayo makahawak ni isang barangay (You can't even take control of a barangay). In the coming days, there will be a very, very radical change in the behavior of the government," Duterte said.

"I'm serving [a] notice to everyone that in the coming months – not really bloody – but there will be a little trouble. We have to finish it. This will make us a magnet to criticisms," he added.

The President, who had blamed the communists for the spate of killings in Negros Island, said that the government is fighting the insurgency for a "saner Philippines." The President has ruled out martial law in the island, for now. (READ: Negros Oriental Bloodshed: State-sponsored or insurgency-related?)

"You know I am not challenging you because you might win or you may lose. But it is something to be seen…. We cannot go on this way. We have been fighting for 53 years. Maawa kayo sa (Have mercy on the) coming generation," Duterte said.

Land is at the heart of Asia's longest-running communist insurgency. To solve it, Duterte said that he will order the distribution of lands. 

"It's not really about arms. It's not only about gaining a foothold in those areas…. Bantay tayo dyan sa Negros na 'yan. Kunin mo na ang initiative sa komunista. What they're parlaying is land. Eh 'di unahan na natin. Bigay na natin [ang lupa]," Duterte said.

(It's not really about arms. It's not only about gaining a foothold in those areas. Keep an eye on Negros. Get the initiative from the communists. What they're parlaying is land. So let's work ahead of them. Let's distribute the land already.)

The President also said that even without communists, agrarian reform will always be a program of the government.

"Even if you didn't exist, land reform will really be the program of any government, even without the element of violence and armed struggle," he said.

Early in his presidency, Duterte had initiated peace talks with the Left, with a plan of distributing land to farmer beneficiaries.

But this ended in November 2017 after the President fumed over ambushes of military and police by the NPA. (READ: The generals' coup in 2018: Duterte breaks up with Reds) – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.