Police and military forces have arrested a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and his friend, a retired Catholic priest, for alleged firearms violation, authorities confirmed on Friday.
Renante Gamara, a 61-year-old consultant for the rebel movement, was taken into custody along with priest Arturo Joseph Balagat, 72, from a home in the Manila suburb of Imus city, said Guillermo Eleazar, regional chief for the Philippine National Police.
Gamara’s arrest on Wednesday came shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday announced his decision that peace negotiations with the CPP, which has waged one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies, would be “permanently terminated.”
The two were taken into custody based on an arrest warrant for Gamara issued by a local judge in connection with violations of the country’s firearms and ammunition law, Eleazar said. He said that a grenade and a handgun were found in Gamara’s home.
“He went into hiding after President Duterte terminated the peace talks with them two years ago and ordered their re-arrest,” Eleazar said of Gamara.
In 2006, police filed kidnapping and murder charges against Gamara in connection with the abduction and killing of a soldier, Eriberto Eclavea, in Mauban town in Quezon province, south of Manila.
Gamara was arrested in 2012 but released on bail along with dozens of communist party leaders so they could join peace negotiations that began in 2016 in Oslo, Norway. The talks, however, faltered after Duterte accused the rebels of duplicity by staging attacks while negotiating peace.
The president suspended the negotiations in 2017. Since then, both sides have been engaged only in backdoor negotiations in an attempt to restart the talks. But as this was going on, Duterte and the Philippine military establishment have accused the communist rebels of being involved in an alleged plot with the political opposition to unseat him.
The plot was to have been carried out in November last year, but police and military intelligence said it had been scuttled because the authorities had found out about it.
Hours after the arrest of Gamara and the priest, President Duterte on Thursday formally announced a permanent end to the peace talks with communist rebels, saying the CPP and its military wing, the New People’s Army, could negotiate with his successor.
“I am officially announcing the permanent termination of our talks between the government panel and the Communist Party of the Philippines,” Duterte said Thursday night in a speech at the Philippine Army’s 122nd Founding Anniversary rites.
“I am no longer entertaining any interventions or persuasions in this democratic state of the Republic of the Philippines,” he added.
Exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, in a statement from the Netherlands, said the movement had no choice but to “single-mindedly defend itself actively against Duterte’s administration.”
“First, Duterte had terminated the peace negotiations and secondly, but more importantly, Duterte has no interest in the peace negotiations because he has always schemed to use the armed conflict as an excuse for carrying out martial law nationwide,” Sison said.
Currently, only the Mindanao region, the country’s southern third, remains under military rule. Martial law was first imposed there in 2017 to defeat Islamic State militants who had taken over the city of Marawi.
But Duterte has not lifted martial law, stressing that many militants, including foreign fighters, were still in parts of the south. But despite the tight military control, attacks have occurred, including a suicide bombing that killed 23 people at a church on Jolo island in late January.
Duterte’s government, meanwhile, has been rounding up senior CPP leaders and consultants. In November last year, troops arrested Vicente Ladlad, 68, and two of his comrades.
The military has filed charges against Ladlad and other CPP leaders for their alleged involvement in the killing of CPP members who were suspected of being government spies. The remains of 67 people believed to be former CPP rebels were unearthed in 2006 in the central Leyte island.
A month before Ladlad’s capture, a comrade also charged with the Leyte deaths, Adelberto Silva, was arrested near Manila.