THE implemention of a Mindanao-wide martial law will not target the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) engaged in peace talks with the government, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana clarified on Saturday.
Lorenzana’s clarification came after CPP founder Jose Maria Sison warned that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) could abuse its power and target NPA rebels, while martial law is in effect in the whole island of Mindanao.
On Saturday afternoon however, government negotiators said they would no longer join the fifth round of peace talks with the communists, which were set to begin later this week, because of the CPP’s order (see story on A1).
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao last Tuesday after the Islamist terror group Maute attacked the Muslim-majority city of Marawi, occupying or burning several structures and taking hostages.
A day after the declaration, the CPP ordered the NPA to increase its attacks as a way of resisting Duterte’s declaration of military rule in Mindanao.
On Friday, however, Sison, as well as the CPP’s political wing the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), asked their comrades in the party to “reconsider” the order to the NPA to increase attacks.
Sison, the NDFP’s chief political consultant, said the CPP condemns the attacks launched by the Maute, a group linked to the Islamic State.
Lorenzana reiterated that martial law won’t target the NPA, and that the AFP would “fully comply” with the President’s directives.
The DND has released its martial law guidelines stating that the AFP would abide by the rule of law and respect human rights.
“We will fully comply with the directives of the President that martial law was declared to address radical Islamic terrorism and narco-terrorism in Mindanao. We are conducting our operations in accordance with the rule of law and respect for human life,” the head of the Department of National Defense (DND) said in a statement.
“We would like to make it clear that in the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao, the [AFP] will not specifically target the New People’s Army,” he added.
Lorenzana said law-abiding citizens in Mindanao “need not fear” the increased presence of military men.
“Government security forces are there to protect the populace, maintain peace and order and go after criminal elements,” he said.
However, Lorenzana warned communist rebels against criminal and illegal activities such as kidnapping, extortion, murder and destruction of property, saying such actions would be “dealt with, with or without martial law.”
“I’d just like to clarify my message to the CPP-NPA: do not add yourselves as problems in what’s happening in Mindanao. Do not force the government’s hand,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.