Communist rebels waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies on Wednesday warned of intensified attacks against government targets in the Philippines, as a scheduled round of peace negotiations this month faltered.
President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-declared socialist, has said that talks would only resume if Jose Maria Sison, leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), came home from self-exile in the Netherlands.
Originally announced for June 28, the talks were to be hosted by the Norwegian government in Oslo, but Manila recently announced that they would not go ahead.
On Wednesday, the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing, said Duterte’s condition to hold talks in the Philippines was “totally unacceptable to the revolutionary forces.”
“The NPA will surely frustrate the aims of the Duterte regime by waging extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare,” the rebel group said in a statement.
The condition was like “insisting that peace talks be held in the territories under the political authority of the revolutionary forces – something that Duterte will definitely not accept,” the NPA said.
The guerrillas accused the government of holding the talks hostage as Duterte consolidated his power amid increasing opposition to his administration that has overseen police-sanctioned killings in the name of a brutal anti-drugs campaign.
Invitation to Sison still stands
The NPA also accused the president of wanting to “establish a fascist dictatorship and impose nationwide martial law.”
The NPA has been waging a rebellion that has killed tens of thousands in the Philippine countryside since 1969, making the insurgency one of the world’s longest and deadliest. Military estimates placed the NPA strength at more than 5,000 scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts nationwide.
Duterte opened peace negotiations with the communists shortly after he took office in 2016. He freed top CPP officials and gave them safe-conduct passes to join talks in Europe, but he subsequently scrapped negotiations after the NPA continued with attacks in the countryside.
He has said there would be no more talks during his term, but he later softened his stand saying that he was willing to meet personally with Sison.
His chief assistant for the peace process, Jesus Dureza, however, announced that talks scheduled to resume later this month had been cancelled. He did not give any reason why, but he has travelled to Europe ostensibly to meet with CPP officials.
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said Wednesday that the president’s invitation still stood and that troops were under orders to ensure Sison’s safety and immunity from arrest.
“He assures Sison’s security, even logistics support that the CPP-NPA would need during the peace talks,” Roque told DZMM radio in Manila, transcripts of which were made available to reporters.
“And even if the talks produce nothing, he would personally take Sison to the airport, so he can leave the country,” Roque said, referring to Duterte.
He said Duterte was sincere in his offer, but also wanted the communists to reciprocate his offer by making true on their promise to silence their guns, stop targeting military installations while the talks were ongoing and cease from collecting so-called “revolutionary taxes” – a euphemism for extortion.
Top cadre caught
Meanwhile, authorities said that Julio Llanes, one of the top communist leaders in the central Philippines, was arrested Wednesday.
Llanes, a squad leader of the CPP-NPA, was caught in the central province of Capiz after four months of police intelligence monitoring, according to police Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, regional police chief.
Llanes, who was included in the defense department's list of most wanted terrorists, is wanted for spearheading an ambush early this year that left one soldier and two pro-government militiamen dead, police said.