The government has declared an all-out war against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who were earlier tagged as terrorists by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is no different from the Abu Sayyaf Group because its members also extort money from businessmen.
“It is an all-out war because they are considered by the President already as terrorists. We also consider them as terrorists,” Lorenzana added, noting that the NPA is a huge threat to national security.
“The Abu Sayyaf kidnap people and then they get money. The NPA will threaten those businessmen and also get money. There’s no difference at all. They are there to terrorize people to giving them money, that’s extortion,” he added.
“We will hunt them down and maybe stop them from doing what they are doing,” Lorenzana said.
He however clarified that the war declaration only covers the CPP’s “armed component.”
The Defense chief said the Armed Forces of the Philippines had prepared for armed conflict following periodic skirmishes with the rebels particularly in Mindoro and Mindanao.
Duterte earlier called the communists “spoiled brats” after he scrapped the government’s peace talks with the rebel group.
The CPP lifted the unilateral ceasefire it declared last year because the government did not release some 400 political prisoners detained on various charges.
On Tuesday, the President gave authorities a free hand to rearrest communist leaders freed on bail after the government withdrew the immunity guarantees for those participating in the peace negotiations.
In a statement, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said the government is terminating the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
The notice of termination, dated February 7, was addressed to CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and NDF panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili.
“We wish to announce that following the President’s pronouncement of the cancellation of the peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and per his instructions, the GRP [government of the Republic of the Philippines]Panel served to the NDF today the Government’s notice of termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG),” Dureza said.
The JASIG, signed in 1995, “ensures free movement and immunity from arrest, surveillance, interrogation, and other such actions for those accredited persons holding Documents of Identification (DI) as official participants in the negotiations, including negotiators, consultants, staff, and security personnel.”
The President said he had “walked the extra mile” to bring peace by resuming talks and freeing rebel leaders.
Despite the cancellation of the peace talks, Dureza said that the Duterte administration remains committed in its peace efforts “by continuing with resolve to explore all opportunities to intensify implementation of genuine reforms for the benefit of the people, particularly socio-economic programs in conflict-affected communities.”
“It shall also continue to pursue other paths to peace and undertake all forms of peace initiatives and peace building efforts at the national, regional and local levels to keep the peace,” Dureza said.