A day after communist rebels announced the termination of their five-month-old unilateral ceasefire, President Rodrigo Duterte remained adamant against giving in to a demand to free their jailed comrades.
The rebels resumed hostilities in Mindanao eight days before their ceasefire ends on February 10, killing four soldiers and snatching two others.
On Thursday, Duterte said it would be “too much” to release all 400 detained communist rebels.
“I said I have surrendered, conceded too much, too soon,” Duterte said in remarks during the 38th National Convention of the Philippine Association of Water Districts in Davao City on Thursday.
He said it was enough that he released Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, top officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Now they want 400 released. My God, that is already releasing all. Para na akong nag-amnesty [It’s as if I declared amnesty], which is usually given after a successful negotiation,” he added.
The President also said it would be difficult to give in to the demands of the communist rebels without angering the military.
“Don’t push me into a corner because the military might not like it, and then if the military might oust me, might kill me, then you have nobody talking to you,” he said.
The President again insisted on a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“You want individual declaration of ceasefire. I’m just asking for a document which says that we are now in a ceasefire mode, signed by the government of Oslo who’s offering their good offices for us to negotiate,” he said.
Duterte said he had yet to decide if the government will follow the communist rebels’ ceasefire withdrawal.
“So, you withdrew the ceasefire, so am I supposed to do the same? … Go ahead, I will decide in the fullness of God’s time,” he said.
“What is important is that they have to have respect. Otherwise, if respect is gone, there’s nothing else left,” the President added in a mix of English and Filipino.
4 soldiers killed, 2 snatched
The NPA launched a series of attacks, killing four soldiers and snatching two others in separate incidents in southern Philippines.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said three soldiers were found dead and were believed executed by NPA guerrillas in Bukidnon.
The three soldiers, belonging to the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion, and whose identities were withheld pending notification of their families, had asked permission to leave their detachment to pick up supplies in Malaybalay, Bukidnon but did not return.
Later in the night, a civilian reported that three bodies were found along the road of Canayan in Malaybalay.
The bodies were riddled with 5.56 mm bullets, Madrigal said.
In Sultan Kudarat, two soldiers from the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion were kidnapped by NPA rebels while on their way to headquarters.
According to Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, the two soldiers were aboard a motorcycle when they were accosted by 10 heavily armed men in Purok 7 of Telafas village in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, at around 7:30 a.m. Thursday.
“The NPAs are showing complete disregard of their own earlier pronouncement that their unilateral ceasefire is in effect until February 10 by continuously committing atrocities against soldiers and civilians,” Batchar said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the NPA attacked a joint police and Army team at Sitio Paliwason, Lambog village in Manay, Davao Oriental. Rebels killed 2nd Lieutenant Miguel Victor Alejo, a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Sinag-lahi” Class of 2015.
Besides these incidents, the military reported that threats, intimidation and extortion activities by the NPA forced several residents of Barangays Lambog and Rizal of Manay, Davao Oriental to evacuate.
In a complaint filed before the Manay Municipal Police Station, barangay (village) officials said the rebels were forcing them and the residents to support the communist movement.
The residents also sought the assistance of the Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion after the rebels allegedly asked for money and food.
Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, 10th Infantry Division commander, said the continuous threats, extortion and presence of the NPA in these communities have affected the “normal living condition of the people.”
Military officials alerted troops on Thursday for more attacks by communist rebels.
Army Major Ezra Balagtey, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the order was handed down by Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Guerrero, the regional military commander, also ordered soldiers to protect communities and army posts against NPA rebels. The order put the entire eastern region of Mindanao on “active defense posture,” Balagtey said.
“Alert troops for possible attacks. Protect the communities from criminal acts of extortion, burning of equipment, abductions, liquidations and other forms of atrocities,” Balagtey quoted the general as saying.
Jorge Madlos, a rebel spokesman, said rebel forces were ordered to resume offensives against police and military, including pro-government militias and death squads, as well as drug traffickers and warlords.
“Subsequent to the expiration of our unilateral ceasefire, all territorial and unit commands of the NPA are hereby ordered to take full initiative in planning, coordinating and carrying out military campaigns and tactical offensives against the reactionary Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the various paramilitary units and death squads of the Duterte government, drug traffickers and operators of the drug trade and large-scale gambling, private armies and private armed groups of warlords, local tyrants as well as spies,” Madlos said.
FERNAN MARASIGAN AND AL JACINTO