The military vowed more offensives against the New People’s Army (NPA) after President Rodrigo Duterte insisted that communist rebels are the top “terrorist” threat hounding the Philippines.
As more parts of the country eased coronavirus lockdown measures, more military troops “can now be redeployed to further step up the tempo of focused military operations” against the NPA, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo in a statement on Tuesday, June 23.
This followed Duterte’s late night address on Monday, June 22, in which he said: “Terrorism is number one in our list. Actually the number one threat to the country, hindi Abu Sayyaf, hindi ‘yung mga terorista of no value. Itong high value targets, ito ‘yung mga komunista. Kaya ang utos ko talaga sa Armed Forces, sa sundalo, upakan mo, upakan mo.”
(Actually the number one threat to the country is not the Abu Sayyaf, not those terrorists of no value. These high value targets, it’s these communists. That’s why my order to the Armed Forces, to soldiers, is strike them, strike them.)
On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte did not mean the NPA was a bigger national threat than the coronavirus pandemic, but rather the country’s top defense and security issue.
Referring to the communist-led NPA, Arevalo said, “The AFP will pursue our operational initiatives against [the] communist terrorist group, and seize the momentum given the string of successes we had very recently.”
At least 10 NPA guerrillas were killed in clashes with the military from June 16 to 23, Arevalo added. The casualties include a member of the so-called Morong 43, a group of health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal in 2020 for alleged involvement with the NPA but later released for humanitarian reasons.
Around 22 other NPA and Militia ng Bayan (NPA auxiliaries) members were captured in the same period, yielding at least 26 firearms, an improvised explosive device, 4 rifle grenades, and two electronic devices and USB flash drives “containing important information about the terrorist organization,” Arevalo said.
Reacting to the commander-in-chief’s fresh tirade against communist rebels, Arevalo said, “We will strike while the iron is hot.”
“If our current deployments have already been reaping success, we are confident that the fresh troops that will be brought back to the frontlines will have a positive impact on our campaign against the CTG (communist terrorist group) and the LTG (local terrorist group),” Arevalo added.
The AFP refers to extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as “local terrorist groups.”
The military is also on the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. An encounter in Patikul municipality on Monday killed one soldier and wounded 9 others, while inflicting an “undetermined number” of casualties among the Abu Sayyaf.
The Duterte administration is on a hard push to stamp out the 5-decade-old communist insurgency. It’s a complete turnaround from Duterte’s friendly stance towards the rebels early in his term, when he entertained their top leaders in Malacañang and appointed some of them to high positions. Attempts at peace negotiations went underway but bogged down in late 2017 after mutual accusations of ceasefire violations.
Nowadays, a Cabinet-led National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) drives government efforts to combat NPA fronts while enticing guerrillas to defect through offers of amnesty and financial assistance.
The NTF-ELCAC is part of the government’s coronavirus task force on strategic communications. During many of Duterte’s public addresses on the public health crisis, he accused the NPA of sabotaging government response efforts, and stealing aid meant for the poor.
The military, meanwhile, was tasked with helping distribute the second tranche of the social welfare department’s emergency cash subsidy in remote and critical areas of the country, following reports of NPA attacks on cash distribution caravans.
The military and the NPA both declared ceasefires during the first month of the coronavirus lockdown, but both sides accused each other of violating the truce. Both sides have since resumed offensives.
Duterte’s office is studying the enrolled anti-terrorism bill for “constitutional infirmities,” Roque said Tuesday. The bill, which Duterte had certified as urgent, widely criticized as “draconian” and a threat to dissent, broadens the definition of terrorism and eases restrictions on military and law enforcement agents in surveilling, arresting, detaining, and prosecuting terrorism suspects. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.