Duterte: Communist rebels are terrorists

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday, February 5, that New People's Army (NPA) rebels are "considered terrorists," but stopped short of declaring an all-out war against them.

Duterte made the remarks after he visited the wake of 3 slain soldiers at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City. The soldiers were killed by the NPA in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, suffering a total of 24 gunshot wounds.

"They announced publicly that they were lifting the ceasefire order [on February 1] but they were killing my soldiers and policemen in the meantime. Saan ba ang honor mo diyan? ... Eh 'di wala ka man lang respeto sa kalaban mo. (Where's the honor in that? You don't have respect for your enemy.) In the field of battle, there is always honor," Duterte said.

"They (the NPA) are burning equipment of companies who refuse to pay revolutionary taxes. They have wreaked havoc on the economy. So kung anong gustong gawin ninyo sa gobyerno o sa tao, eh gagawin ko rin sa inyo (So whatever you want to do to the government or to the people, we'll also do to you)," he also said.

Asked by media if the Duterte administration would declare an all-out war against the NPA, the President responded: "No, no. Law enforcement lang (only) against terrorists, period."

On Saturday, February 4, Duterte had announced that he was scrapping peace talks with the communists. He blamed the collapse of the talks entirely on the rebels and criticized their demand for the release of hundreds of political prisoners.

The day before that, on Friday, February 3, the President had lifted the government ceasefire to match the declaration of the NPA. The communist rebels, however, had wanted the talks to continue.

"I went out of my way, sometimes being humble. When they resort to insulting remarks – nilunok ko 'yan (I put up with that) because I wanted to end a 50-year-old war," Duterte said on Sunday.

"But apparently, it seems to me that itong mga terorista (these terrorists) want another 50 [years] of killing of Filipinos. Patayan tayong Pilipino ang gusto nila (They want us Filipinos to kill one another)."

The NPA has been in the US list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) since August 9, 2002, upon the request of the Arroyo administration. The Duterte administration recently asked that the NPA be delisted, but the US said it was keeping the communist rebels on the list.

Prison again?

Duterte also reiterated that prisoners who were released last year to serve as consultants to the National Democratic Front (NDF) should be put back in jail.

"'Yung lahat ng nasa labas, kayong na-release, umuwi na kayo dito because you are wanted, and upon your arrival, I will arrest you and place you back in prison. Okay? Ngayon, kung ayaw ninyong bumalik, you are fugitives, I will cancel your passports and we'll inform the international police for an international warrant. Ngayon, gusto ninyo mag-asylum sa Netherlands, o sige, diyan," the President said.

(Those who are out of prison, those who were released, go home here because you are wanted, and upon your arrival, I will arrest you and place you back in prison. Okay? Now, if you don't want to return, you are fugitives, I will cancel your passports and we'll inform the international police for an international warrant. Now, if you want asylum in the Netherlands, then fine.)

"La-landing talaga sila sa Muntinlupa. Tangina, la-landing, doon sila papunta lahat," he added.

(They'll really land in [the New Bilibid Prison] in Muntinlupa. Son of a bitch, they'll land there, they'll all end up there.)

But in a statement on Sunday, NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said all 17 NDF consultants who were released from detention "are in the Philippines and are not in hiding," including those who joined the 3rd round of peace talks in Rome from January 19 to 25.

Agcaoili also said these NDF consultants cannot be put back in prison. 

"They are all protected from rearrest in accordance with the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees)," he said.

"Their bail renewal is due this month and, as reflected in the Rome Joint Statement of 25 January 2017, both their lawyers and the GRP have agreed to cooperate in this regard," he added.

Surrenderers to be accepted

Despite his strong words against the NPA, Duterte said the government would accept communist rebels who would surrender.

"Mamili kayo: 50 years hindi natapos 'to... I am offering you peace. Bumaba na lang kayo," the President said. "Basta lahat [ng] mag-surrender tanggapin ko."

(Just choose: 50 years and this conflict still isn't over... I am offering you peace. Just go down from your camps in the mountains. I'll accept all those who will surrender.)

Six soldiers and a communist rebel have been reported killed since the violence resumed on January 23. The NPA also said it took 5 soldiers as "prisoners of war."

The NPA's armed struggle, Asia's longest-running communist insurgency, has claimed thousands of lives since 1969. – with a report from Bobby Lagsa / Rappler.com