THE Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday declared a nationwide war against the armed wing of the communist movement, the New People’s Army (NPA), after President Rodrigo Duterte’s issuance of an official proclamation terminating peace talks.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., the military spokesman, said troops would begin conducting “focused military operations.”
“It is the mandate of the Armed Forces to go after criminals and illegally armed elements, it’s part of our mandate.
We are performing our mandate so whatever term you will use, it is performance of our mandate,” Padilla told reporters in a news conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“You can call it different things but for us, we will fulfill our mandate [by conducting]focused military operations [that]are in pursuit of our mandate,” he added.
Focused military operations will be enforced especially in Mindanao where martial law was ordered by Duterte in May following the siege by Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.
The military expects the NPA to “show off” by intensifying attacks against government forces in the countryside.
“We have already provided guidance to our units to be vigilant [and]stay alert, pertaining to the movements of the NPA,” Padilla said.
Talks at LGU level on
He described the NPA rebels as “criminals” and said all communist fighters would be arrested by the government.
“All who wear arms or not legally bearing those arms are not supposed to remain at large. They will endanger our communities and hence, they must be arrested,” Padilla noted.
On Thursday, Duterte signed Proclamation 360, declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the National
Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Padilla clarified that the military did not induce the President to end negotiations with the NDF.
“The President has his own basis and he independently made this decision which stemmed from the feedback he had received from different agencies [and]not just from the military, but from police and local government units (LGU) as well,” he said.
Padilla said the military had been supportive of Duterte’s move to pursue peace with the communists, but pointed out that the Left had “not shown any sincerity” while talks were ongoing.
“[I]n case of the past peace talks, it is now very clear that the behavior of the other side will always lead to the failure of peace talks,” he said.
“There is a bright spot [however]. We will continue to campaign, together with the LGUs, to pursue peace talks because even though the formal talks at the national level have ended, our local [government units]and our forces will be joining forces to give chance to those on the mountains to go back to their normal lives,” Padilla added.
‘NPA crimes increased’
Padilla presented before the media a report on the number of crimes committed by NPA rebels in eastern and western Mindanao from 2016 up to the first quarter of 2017.
In Western Mindanao, there was a 223.67-percent increase in NPA-affected barangay (villages) while in the Eastern Mindanao, a 102.20 percent increase was seen.
Padilla estimated that there were more or less 3,800 NPA members nationwide.
“Relatively, this will not change because their recruitments are continuous so they will not be totally wiped out.”
NPA rebels were involved in various criminal activities, including ambushes, raids, harassment, bombings, kidnapping, robbery, hold-up, arson and sabotage. Arson activities destroyed properties worth about P120 million.
Padilla also disclosed that the “higher organ” of the NPA had issued a directive to all its sub-regional commands to launch tactical offensives against military forces, citing three reasons.
These reasons were: the government’s rejection of the offer of the communist movement to help the military in fighting the Maute group in Marawi City; participation of US troops in the battle against the Maute group “in which the NPA in Mindanao will also be affected;” and the cancellation of the fifth round of formal peace talks.
NDF consultants to be arrested
Now that peace talks have been officially terminated by the government, the military spokesman said NDF consultants would be rearrested, since their immunities were only in effect while the peace talks were ongoing.
“[The cancellation of peace talks] will pave the way for their re-arrest because they were only released for the formal talks,” Padilla said.
Seventeen NDF consultants were freed from imprisonment when Duterte launched talks with the communists last year.
Among the NDF consultants issued safe conduct passes were party leaders Wilma and Benito Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Alfredo Mapano, Tirso Alcantara, Pedro Codaste, Porferio Tuna, Concha Araneta-Bocala, Ernesto Lorenza, Eduardo Ganelsa, Ariel Arbitario, Runel Saluta, Jaime Solidad, Keneddy Bangibang and Alan Jazmines.
“Remember that all of them are facing charges before courts and they were just temporarily released for the purpose of the peace talks. Now that there are no peace talks, there is no reason for them to be at large,” Padilla said.
Lack of sincerity
In a statement on Friday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte signed Proclamation 360 on Thursday afternoon and directed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the government peace panel to cancel peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“While we agreed to resume peace talks with the aforementioned group and exerted our best efforts to accelerate the signing and implementation of the final peace agreement, the NDF-CPP-NPA has engaged in acts of violence and hostilities,” he said.
According to Roque, Duterte had always wanted the talks to continue, but the communist group “failed to show their sincerity.”
“We find it unfortunate that their members have failed to show their sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations,” Roque said.
“The President, as we all know, has always wanted to leave a legacy of peace under his administration. He has, in fact, walked the extra mile for peace. Rest assured that he will continuously pray that we may all find the peace that we seek for our beloved country in the fullness of God’s time,” he added.
CPP founder Jose Maria Sison earlier accused Duterte of being the top terrorist in the Philippines, saying the latter was responsible for the “mass murder” of drug suspects, among others.
Over the weekend, the President said he was no longer inclined to resume peace talks with the communist group, whose members he branded as “terrorists” and “criminals.”
On Wednesday, Duterte said he would tag all so-called “legal fronts” of the NPA as criminals and have them arrested for conspiracy.
NDF blames Duterte
The NDF blamed Duterte for the failure of the peace talks.
“President Duterte bears full responsibility for the failure of the talks on social and economic reforms because of his sudden turn-around and heightened hostility to the revolutionary forces and the people,” the group said.
The President halted talks with the rebels in July following a series of attacks by the NPA, against government forces. He said he would not resume the t alks unless the rebels stopped their extortion activities.
The fifth round of talks brokered by Norway was suspended on May 27 after the government panel withdrew from the negotiating table in response to the communist group’s order to guerrillas to intensify attacks against security forces amid martial law in Mindanao.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE