In April, after the New People’s Army attacked the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruth Guingona (the former vice president’s wife), wounding her and killing two of her police escorts, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda taunted them:
“They want to challenge us? Go ahead, make our day.”
Apparently, the NPA has been making Lacierda and company’s days. Last week the NPA used an Iraq-war kind of improvised explosive device in their ambush of a convoy of the Philippine National Police elite Special Action Forces (SAF), killing nine of the troopers.
What is alarming about the attack is that the SAF is considered—and called—the country’s commando unit, whose first batches were trained by American Special Forces several years back, and given state-of-the art armaments and devices.
The attack was so precisely carried out that the commandos didn’t have a chance to fight back.
Just three days before, seven troopers of another elite unit, the Marines, were killed in a firefight with what military authorities claimed were “Abu Sayyaf” fighters in Patikul in Sulu province. That’s “Abu Sayyaf” in quotes, as the perception on the ground continues that these are members either of the Moro National Liberation Front or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or allies of and protected by, the two Muslim guerilla organizations. The latter, by the way, and the government have agreed on a truce as part of their peace talks.
The attacks occurred so close together, and with television reportage showing grieving mothers, widows, and siblings, and with President Aquino and his top brass coming out with only feeble statements of condolences, a cloud of demoralization has descended on the country’s security forces, according to sources in the military.
“All we hear from the authorities is how big the compensation to our fallen comrades will be,” an Army captain said. “We don’t hear the President and his generals calling for all-out retaliation for the massacre of our troops.”
The widespread talk in the military is that Aquino’s political adviser, the leftist Ronald Llamas, and his peace-process secretary, Teresita Deles, have been convincing him to continue peace negotiations with the insurgents.
The NPA has been making dramatic offensives intended, it seems, to demonstrate the military’s helplessness and embarrass its leadership. In February, about a hundred NPA simultaneously attacked the main compound of Del Monte Philippines Inc. and Dole Philippines in Bukidnon, killing a security guard and injuring three others, and confiscating the camps’ rifles.
This was the first time the NPA made such an attack, with both Del Monte and Dole located so close to the metropolis Cagayan de Oro and military encampments. NPA has intensified its attacks in Kalinga and in the Bicol region in Luzon, in Surigao in Mindanao, and in Samar in the Visayas, Ang Bayan, the insurgents’ official newsletter has reported. (This can be accessed at www.philippinerevolution.net).
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There are several reasons why NPA attacks are likely to intensify even more in the coming months.
First, despite their belligerent stance, that they will wage revolution until kingdom come, the communists want the peace talks to resume, for the simple reason that this will allow them to expand their forces on the ground. Many of their leaders enjoyed the freedom to move around, travel in and out of the country when the peace talks were being held and the so-called Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) was in place.
The arrangement gave free passage to any NPA or CPP leader dubbed as “consultant” to the negotiations. While the JASIG hasn’t been officially terminated, the military interprets the cessation of the peace talks as the green light to hunt down the communists.
The NPA attacks are intended to achieve maximum media impact, to create a public opinion that government must resume the peace talks to end so much insurgency-related violence.
Second, the attacks are intended to convince the regional military commands and provincial police forces to think twice before hunting down NPA and CPP leaders.
The hunt for communist leaders became lucrative for the military and the police when the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Defense Department issued a Joint Order No. 14 -2012 in November last year putting P466 million bounties on the heads of 235 NPA commanders and CPP leaders.
Topping the list of the hunted are CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon, his wife Wilma Tiamzon who heads its National Finance Commission, NPA Mindanao spokesperson Jorge Madlos, and NPA Eastern Mindanao chief Leoncio Pitao. The list has been distributed to military and police officials, but not, strangely enough, to the public.
The magnitude of the bounties, however, was disclosed by Col. Arnold Quiapo, commander of the 301s Infantry Brigade, when he was reported in the provincial newspaper The Daily Guardian to have said that the “reward program” in Panay, where his brigade operates, involves P23 million for the capture of 30 NPA leaders. At the top of the list is veteran NPA leader Concha Araneta-Bocala, with a P7.8 bounty on her head, followed by her husband Reynaldo with P4.8 million. The remaining 28 insurgents have bounties ranging from P250,000 to P2.5 million each.
The huge bounties infuriate NPA leaders. At the same time, the bounties make them more careful, so now they limit the duration of their sojourns in the cities. To send the message to the local military and police commanders to back off, they have ordered or will order their NPA fighters to go on the offensive. They are calculating—correctly or not—that local military and police commanders would prefer to make their territories appear peaceful to the top brass, instead of being racked with NPA attacks, which would happen if they hunt down the NPA leaders for the bounties.
Lacierda should think twice before he again taunts the NPA with his make-my-day comment.
Website: www.rigoberto.tiglao andwww.trigger.ph