THE Armed Forces have begun tracking the whereabouts of 21 consultants of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in preparation for their arrests.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, military public affairs chief, however, said there was still no specific guidance on the arrest of the NDF men who were freed last year to join the peace talks with the government.
Arevalo made the announcement a week after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 360, which officially terminated peace negotiations with the NDF, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza had confirmed that 21 consultants were released for the peace talks last year, including Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the couple leading the communist rebellion.
Arevalo clarified that the cancellation of the peace negotiations with the communist movement did not mean the immediate arrest of the 21 consultants.
“The Presidential Proclamation 360 is enough as a signal for them to take heed or take the cue that the peace talks have officially been canceled,” Arevalo told reporters.
He cited the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees between the government and the NDF, which provides protection to NDF consultants given safe conduct passes.
When Duterte reopened peace talks with the communists, safe conduct passes were issued to the consultants who were freed from detention, including the Tiamzons, Adelberto Silva, Alfredo Mapano, Tirso Alcantara, Pedro Codaste, Porferio Tuna, Concha Araneta Bocala, Ernesto Lorenza, Eduardo Ganelsa, Ariel Arbitrario, Runel Saluta, Jaime Soledad, Kennedy Bangibang and Alan Jazmines.
Arevalo said the military did not have information on the exact whereabouts of the Tiamzon couple.
“The ones that we are monitoring and the ones we will arrest are different. We have to conduct the monitoring [to prepare for the]time [when]there will be instruction, specific order to arrest [the consultants],” he said. “We have to be proactive in our actions.”
In February, the government filed a motion before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 seeking the re-arrest of the Tiamzon couple, but failed.
The military also vowed to heighten operations against the NPA, following the encounter between government security forces and NPA rebels in separate incidents in Nasugbu, Batangas that resulted in the deaths of 15 NPA members and the wounding of two rebels and five soldiers.
“We will not stop especially now that we have started our heightened campaign against this terrorist group of the New People’s Army,” Arevalo said.
The Philippine Army disputed the claims made by CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison that the clashes between government troops and the NPA in Batangas were like the police’s anti-illegal drug operations dubbed “Oplan Tokhang.”
Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, commander of the Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade, said Sison’s statements were “mere propaganda” against the military.
The same day when the encounter transpired, Sison called on independent human rights organizations and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the deaths of the supposed NPA members in Batangas, which he described as “Tokhang-like.”
“Joma Sison’s statement is a mere NPA propaganda against the government forces which are pure and simple lies with the sole intention of salvaging their eroding mass base support and projecting relevance in the region,” Burgos said in a statement.
Order to shoot NPAs defended
Malacañang on Thursday defended President Duterte’s order to the police and military to shoot armed communist rebels.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque maintained that the President’s directive against armed rebels was within the bounds of the law.
“Of course, because anyone who bears arms is guilty of rebellion. The crime of rebellion is the crime of taking up arms against the government,” Roque told Palace reporters.
“So it’s natural, so when you are bearing arms against the government you are engaged in crime, you are supposed to implement the law and yes, the President has that power to implement the law. It is a domestic, not an international armed conflict, and an arms-bearing rebel is a proper military target,” he added.
Duterte in a speech on Wednesday directed the police and the military to shoot armed members of NPA, saying government was on the offensive following the collapse of peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels.
“So what will be my orders? Shoot them. They will kill you anyway. So if there is an armed NPA there or terrorists, if he’s holding any firearms, shoot,” Duterte said during the send-off of Vietnamese fishermen at the Sual Wharf in Pangasinan.
The President said state troops must not mind if their acts would be questioned by human rights groups.
“You just shut up. Do not answer if that issue of human rights [comes up], you say, ‘Go to Duterte. It is and was his order,’” he said.
There are around 3,800 NPA fighters in the country, according to the military.
Roque said an executive order was in the works to formalize the declaration of communist rebels as terrorists.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, chief government negotiator with the CPP-NPA-NDF, said that the issuance of President Duterte of a proclamation declaring the NPA as “terrorists” would be the final nail in the coffin in terms of peace negotiations.
“If the issuance [of the proclamation]happens then it will be the end of everything [in terms of the peace talks]because we cannot negotiate with terrorists,” Bello said in Filipino in an interview at the House of Representatives.
However, Bello said the door was still open for peace talks despite all the tough talk from the President.
“The environment is not there, we will wait for an enabling environment, a conducive environment for the conduct of the peace talks negotiation,” Bello said.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA