Philippine Communist Rebels Vow ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ for Vaccine Deliveries

Nonoy Espina and Jeoffrey Maitem
Bacolod and Cotabato, Philippines
2021-02-09
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Philippine Communist Rebels Vow ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ for Vaccine Deliveries Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque gives a thumbs up as he directs operations during simulation exercises on how to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, at Terminal 2 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, Feb. 9, 2021.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Communist rebels in the Philippines have vowed to open a “humanitarian corridor” for the transport of coronavirus vaccines in remote areas but have asked that military vehicles carrying armed soldiers not be used for this purpose.

Marco Valbuena, a spokesman for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), issued the statement on Tuesday in response to an appeal by President Rodrigo Duterte for the armed group not to disrupt the delivery of vaccines.

At least 117,000 doses of vaccines developed by U.S. and European manufacturers are expected in the country by next week, the government has announced. The initial batch is expected to be given to health workers nationwide, though more are expected to arrive later.

Responding to Duterte, Valbuena assured the government that the rebels would create a corridor for the safe and unimpeded transport of vaccines.

“[T]he NPA will ensure that transportation of COVID-19 vaccines will be provided a humanitarian corridor for safe and unimpeded passage in guerilla base areas and zones,” the rebels said in their statement. “It is a matter of principle for the NPA to respect all humanitarian undertakings that benefit the masses.”

But Valbuena also suggested that the delivery of vaccines in remote areas be handled by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross, and other civilian humanitarian agencies, which he said were better suited for transporting and distributing drugs for mass inoculations.

“We strongly suggest that COVID-19 vaccines not be transported in AFP military vehicles, especially those which are not properly marked and carrying armed soldiers,” he said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Non-Red Cross vehicles that will be used as COVID-19 vaccine transporters must be clearly and properly marked with a red cross over a white background,” Valbuena said.

In a late-night message on Monday, President Duterte had said that the CPP and NPA “must guarantee” the safe and unhindered transportation of the vaccine to far-flung areas of the Philippine archipelago.

“Do not touch the medicines. Allow the vaccines to be transported freely and safely,” Duterte said during a cabinet meeting, according to transcripts released Tuesday. “I am asking you now to observe the rule of law because that is for the Filipino people.”

‘It ends there’

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque snubbed the rebels in their response to Duterte, saying Manila would stick with its vaccination delivery plan.

“First of all, we have a rollout plan. That will be followed no matter what the CPP-NPA says. Number two, I guess they have freedom of expression but they are tagged as a terrorist group so they can express their opinion but it ends there,” Roque said.

“Our rollout plan was crafted with the help of experts and it will remain,” he added.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said that the NPA should not dictate how the government delivers vaccines. Some remote corners of the country can only be properly accessed by military aircraft and ground assets, he said.

“Those assets are there after all to cater to the interest and welfare of the people we are constitutionally mandated to protect and serve,” Arevalo said.

On Tuesday, Philippine health authorities confirmed 65 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the nationwide death toll from the pandemic to close to 11,300. More than 1,200 new cases were also recorded during the previous 24 hours to bring the country’s total caseload to 540,227 – the second highest number of cumulative cases in East Asia behind neighboring Indonesia.

The CPP and NPA, meanwhile, have been waging a Maoist rebellion aimed at overthrowing the government since 1969 – Asia’s longest running insurgency.

Negotiations with the group have been on and off over the years. One of Duterte’s first official acts when he became president in 2016 was to launch peace talks. But he later pulled out of the talks, accusing the rebels of carrying on with attacks despite the negotiations.

Hours after Duterte made his appeal, three NPA suspected rebels were killed early Tuesday in a clash with state forces in the town of President Roxas in southern Cotabato province.

Slain were Buenaventura Dawal, executive committee chairman of the NPA’s southern Mindanao regional command, and two other fighters, municipal police chief Maj. Judgie Barotas said.

“They all died on the spot. They fired first but luckily there were no casualties on the government side,” Barotas told reporters.

Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report from Manila.

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