Philippine National Security Adviser: Communist Rebels Remerge as Top Threat

Jojo Rinoza and Basilio Sepe
Manila and Dagupan, Philippines
2020-10-28
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201028-PH-communist-620.jpg Philippine New People’s Army rebels display their firearms near the southern city of Butuan.
Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews

Communist insurgents have reemerged as a grave internal security threat to the Philippines, but the government has earmarked billions of pesos to rehabilitate hundreds of villages freed by state security forces from the guerrillas’ influence, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said Wednesday.

The government plans to distribute 16.44 billion pesos (U.S. $338.3 million) among more than 800 villages liberated from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), he said in an interview broadcast on national television and radio.

Esperon alleged that the insurgents were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 7,114 and infected 375,180 nationwide, according to the Philippine Department of Health. Globally, more than 44 million people have been infected and more than 1.16 million have died, according to disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

“What I am saying is the pandemic is a clear and present danger, but we need to look at this threat to our national security,” Esperon said. “And the president has already said this, the CPP-NPA-NDF is the number one political security threat that we should not ignore.”

The NDF, or National Democratic Front, is the political wing of the communist party.

“That is why our counter-insurgency programs must continue and he created the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict,” Esperon said, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Meanwhile across the southern Mindanao region, the communists have propagated guerrilla bases that are supported by far-flung communities, the national security adviser said.

“Their guerrilla bases are the villages that they really control where they exert their influence,” he said. “The village chiefs there are really under their control and they have managed to set up a shadow government.”

“We really need to end these guerrilla bases because as long as they have influence in these areas, their front organizations would also grow strong,” he said.

CPP-NPA representatives could not be reached immediately for comment.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., the de facto leader of the task force, recently criticized popular actress Liza Soberano and former Miss Universe Catriona Gray for allegedly having ties with leftist organizations which could be fronts for communist rebels, the New York Times reported.

His statement was rebuked by opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

“To Liza and Catriona: It is difficult and painful to be at the front lines fighting beside persons oppressed by a norm that advocates rape, murder and exploitation,” Hontiveros said by telephone, the Times reported. “We will be monitoring him from now on,” she said of Parlade. “He should not use his power as a general and threaten these women.”

822 villages

Esperon said the funds sought from Congress would finance clearing operations, including increased patrols. The funds also would go toward building roads, schools, health centers and irrigation systems. Livelihood programs would be introduced to ween community members from rebel recruiters, he said.

“If we do this, and we get the 16.44 billion pesos that is now pending in Congress, we can accommodate 822 villages,” Esperon said. “These are the ones that we have already cleared of New People’s Army-Communist Party of the Philippines influence from 2016 to 2019.”

Duterte’s security adviser said he expected both houses to pass the budget next month.

The NPA has been waging an insurgency since 1969, the longest running armed uprising in Asia. It has about 5,000 fighters divided among 80 fronts nationwide – down from its height in the 1980s when the guerrillas numbered about 20,000.

Duterte, a self-proclaimed former leftist, was a student of communist party founder Jose Maria Sison, who is in exile in the Netherlands.

One of Duterte’s first acts as president four years ago was to launch peace talks with Sison. He later scrapped the negotiations and accused Sison of insincerity and the rebels of continuing to carry out attacks.

Earlier this month, Sison ordered the NPA to target Chinese firms involved in infrastructure projects here, including state-backed firms blacklisted by the United States for their role in South China Sea construction projects.

“Use all possible types of weapons – from rifles and command-detonated explosives, to spears and punji sticks – against the enemy,” the CPP said at the time.

In addition to the communist insurgents, the Philippines must deal with Islamic State-linked militants who carried out suicide bombings and took over the southern city of Marawi for five months in 2017.

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