A communist guerrilla leader has been arrested in the southern Philippine city of Surigao, military officials said Thursday, as President Rodrigo Duterte hinted at a resumption of stalled formal peace negotiations.
Joint police and military personnel arrested Arpel Rabago, an alleged commander of the New People’s Army (NPA) who was wanted for a string of atrocities, at a road checkpoint on Wednesday, military spokesman 2nd Lt. Jonel Castillo said.
Rabago (alias Ka Yoyo) had a pending arrest warrant for murder, Castillo said.
“Ka Yoyo is responsible for the series of harassment and extortion in certain parts of (Surigao) province,” Castillo said. “He led numerous attacks against government troops who are conducting peace and development activities during the previous years.”
The government-owned Philippine News Agency said Rabado was a vice commander of an NPA platoon operating in the province.
The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been waging a guerrilla campaign in the countryside since the late 1960s. Its numbers are believed to number more than 3,200.
About 40,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed over the course of the conflict, and peace talks have been on and off since the early 1990s.
Rabago’s arrest “is a wake-up call to all NPA members,” Lt. Col. Allen Tomas, commander of the local infantry unit, told reporters. “It is the right time to lay down your arms and be with the government.”
Rabago’s arrest came more than a month after troops captured Rommel Salinas, one of the highest-ranking NPA commanders, at a military checkpoint in Ozamiz City, also in the southern Philippines.
It also came on the same day that Duterte called on the communist party to show sincerity in peace talks aimed at ending its almost half a century of insurgency.
“I have to talk to the communists, but this time I hope you do it in a modality that is sincere,” Duterte said Wednesday.
“We are all Filipinos. You know every time I see a dead soldier or a dead NPA, I feel sorry because we’re Filipinos and we are fighting an issue as a matter of principle,” he said while visiting troops in the southern province of Bukidnon.
Duterte said the communist leadership often “sulk and then disappear” whenever they can’t get want they want “and then come back wanting to talk.” He apparently was referring to the rebels’ decision to break off from talks early this year only to agree to back-channel negotiations.
The negotiations are currently suspended and both sides are looking at meeting again in August.
The negotiations collapsed in February after the guerrillas killed several government forces in a series of attacks.
Amid an apparent stalemate in talks, the government has accused the NPA of stepping up attacks in the absence of the negotiations, despite a mutual commitment on both sides in April to commit to work towards a bilateral truce.
“Targets of the intensified NPA offensives were not only government forces but innocent civilians and private properties,” said Jesus Dureza, the chief presidential adviser on the peace process.
“This equally raises questions as to whether their leaders have control over their forces on the ground,” Dureza told reporters. “Overall, this disrupts the conducive and enabling environment in peace making and peace building.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has accused the guerrillas of continuing to commit “terroristic acts,” including burning of properties, extortion, kidnapping and attacks on government forces.
He has also publicly called for terminating the peace talks in the face of the rebels’ relentless attacks.