15 Communist Rebels Die in Gunfights with Philippine Troops

Froilan Gallardo
Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
171129-PH-NPA-1000 New People’s Army guerrillas, with their faces painted to mask their identities, read a local newspaper at their encampment in the Sierra Madre Mountains southeast of Manila, Nov. 23, 2016.

Philippine security forces killed 15 communist rebels in shootouts near the capital Manila just days after President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he was preparing to designate the guerrillas as terrorists, officials said Wednesday.

The gunbattles broke out Tuesday night when a New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla unit fired on a combined police-military force on the outskirts of Nasugbu town, just south of Manila, according to Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, commander of the local infantry brigade.

Burgos said a guerrilla leader was believed to be among those slain, while two other NPA fighters were wounded. An army officer, Maj. Engelberto Nioda, was wounded in the firefight, but was later declared out of danger at the local hospital, Burgos said.

He said the rebel deaths had resulted from a “leadership vacuum” that could further weaken the guerrilla force, days after the government formally withdrew from peace negotiations with the communists.

Since 1969, the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies. Thousands of combatants and civilians have died in the fighting, which has also stunted growth prospects especially in the countryside.

Duterte last week said the government was now drafting an executive order to declare the CPP-NPA a terrorist group. Military estimates placed the NPA strength at about 5,000 guerrillas scattered in more than 60 fronts nationwide.

“I cut talks with the NPA,” Duterte said, adding that the executive order would declare them as “terrorists and they would be accorded the treatment of being criminals.”

The United States had long placed the CPP-NPA, and its self-exiled founder, Jose Maria Sison, on its terror watch list, making it difficult for the group to receive financial contributions.

Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said the rebel unit that suffered casualties had been on the run from troops since September, and its members were wanted for a series of attacks in the region. He said the operations were in line with Duterte’s order declaring the NPA as terrorists.

“Your soldiers are more committed than ever to push harder and finally put an end to this insurgency in order to protect the Filipino people from fear and atrocities,” he said.

Ending peace talks

One of Duterte’s first moves when he assumed the presidency last year was to launch peace talks with the CPP, whose leader, Sison, was the president’s university professor. The aim was for his government to sign a peace deal with the communists by the time he ends his six-year term in 2022.

But the truce has been short-lived, with the guerrillas demanding more and more concessions, including the freedom of jailed comrades. The negotiations bogged down in February this year, when both sides accused each other of violating a truce agreement.

Last week, an angry Duterte finally called off peace talks with the rebels, and threatened to include them on a terrorist watch list.

The U.S. State Department has designated the CPP-NPA as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2002, but Manila has not officially used the designation, preferring instead to talk peace.

Duterte’s decision to end the peace talks came after a rebel attack that had killed two civilians, including an infant girl, on Mindanao island in the south. Three officers and six civilians were also wounded in that clash.

On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte’s directive meant that the rebel leaders would lose their immunity from arrests, which the government had offered to facilitate the negotiations.

“We have to shut the doors for now to any ongoing peace talks. I am not in a position to say that the door will forever be shut,” Roque said.

“As long as the CPP-NPA does not show sincerity, talks will be remain suspended,” Roque said, adding that rebel leaders should now surrender “or face punitive actions.”

Earlier this week, Duterte also warned mining firms and other companies in the countryside against giving illegal “revolutionary taxes” to the rebels, or face government-sanctioned shut down.

Reacting to Duterte’s threat, the communists vowed to respond “by launching widespread and more frequent tactical offensives” against the armed forces and police.

“Duterte only wants to make certain that all his detractors and dissenters are effectively silenced and suppressed and are unable to stop the perpetuation of his dictatorial rule in the country,” the rebels said in a statement.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.


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