Philippines: Duterte Vows to Go After Communist Rebels Next

Froilan Gallardo
Marawi, Philippines
170803-Duterte-620.jpg Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets with troops during his sixth visit to the southern city of Marawi, Oct. 2, 2017.
Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews

Communist guerrillas have stepped up attacks against Philippine targets as the military struggles to end a siege by Islamic State-linked (IS) militants in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte said while visiting troops in the southern city.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) – which also operates in parts of the south –averaged 12 offensives against the army and agricultural firms in the countryside since he called off peace talks in February, the Philippine president said Monday during his sixth visit to troops deployed to Marawi.

The communist rebels try to collect illegal “revolutionary taxes” from firms and if those firms refuse to pay, their facilities are burned or attacked by gunmen.

“Every day, the countryside has become a battlefield. This cannot continue,” Duterte said in a speech to troops, a copy of which was released to the press on Tuesday.

The conflict between the government and communist rebels has been on the back burner since May 23, when IS-backed gunmen laid siege to Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city in the southern island of Mindanao. The government was surprised and has been struggling to contain the enemy side.

Nearly 1,000 fighters and civilians have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

Army 4th Infantry Division spokesman Capt. Patrick Martinez said the NPA had continued to mount attacks elsewhere, taking advantage of the military concentration in Marawi.

“We did not stop hunting them either,” Martinez said.

NPA clashes

Martinez said the latest clash occurred on Friday, when soldiers attacked an NPA camp in a remote village in Agusan del Sur province, in northeastern Mindanao.

Two rebels were killed and troops recovered six rifles and explosives from the clash site, he said.

In the central Philippines on Tuesday, two Swedish nationals and their Filipino driver were apparently wounded by crossfire when suspected NPA guerrillas tried to attack a police car in Negros Occidental province, a report by the Associated Press quoted local authorities as saying.

Duterte terminated a ceasefire with the rebels on Feb. 3, following the deaths of several soldiers who were killed in clashes even as peace negotiations were ongoing. He had offered some leniency in exchange for the rebels surrendering and ending their 48-year-old Maoist insurgency, Asia’s longest running rebellion.

The rebels rejected the peace overture. Early last month, they called Duterte’s offer unacceptable.

“The line has been drawn to separate, fight and overthrow the U.S.-Duterte regime. Duterte would have a hard time to act convincingly again,” said communist party founder Jose Maria Sison, who lives in self-exile in the Netherlands.


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