Police and military forces arrested a ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and two of his aides before dawn Thursday, authorities said, amid warnings the insurgents were involved in a plot to topple President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.
Vicente Ladlad, 68, was arrested along with two of his comrades in suburban Novaliches city, north of Manila, National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said. Security forces seized weapons from the suspects, including two assault rifles and several hand grenades, Albayalde said.
“I am pleased to announce the successful result of our continuing anti-criminality operations, particularly in the campaign against loose firearms,” National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said.
He said police and members of the army conducted the raid after receiving a tip from “concerned citizens” about men acting suspiciously.
Military officials have filed charges against Ladlad and other CPP leaders for their alleged involvement in the killing of CPP members who were suspected of being government spies. The remains of 67 people believed to be former CPP rebels were unearthed in 2006 in the central island of Leyte.
Last month, a comrade also charged with the Leyte deaths, Adelberto Silva, was arrested near Manila.
“I would like to commend the swift response of the authorities and the concerned citizen for the arrest of these notorious personalities,” military chief Gen. Carlito Galvez said. “The people’s vigilance has been an important aspect of our security operations and has been valuable in the fight against terrorism.”
He said police and the military will not stop their anti-communist drive and vowed to “hit them in all fronts.”
“The apprehension of Ladlad will create a leadership vacuum in their organization which will speed up the process of defeating insurgency in the country,” Galvez said.
Shortly after assuming office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-described leftist, opened peace talks with the CPP and released dozens of detained insurgent leaders as a goodwill measure.
The relationship soured months later when the rebels were accused of continuing their attacks in remote areas of the country despite the peace talks. Duterte subsequently ended the negotiations.
Galvez said that since Duterte came to power, 54 “prominent communist personalities” have been arrested, disrupting the group’s chain of command from the CPP leadership to its New People’s Army (NPA) fronts on the ground.
Among those killed was NPA leader Joey Fajardo who died in a shootout east of Manila in March, while the group’s finance officer was arrested in June. Last month, a ranking party leader was arrested in a suburban area just south of Manila.
“The leadership vacuum led the insurgents to fall complacent, causing the stagnation and decline in their major fields of work in launching the armed struggle,” Galvez said.
The intensified military crackdown came as Duterte announced an alleged plot to oust him by the political opposition and the CPP. He claimed he received a tip from a foreign government but never divulged other details.
Meanwhile, CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, said there was no reason to arrest Ladlad. He accused the military and police of planting evidence against him.
“There is no valid warrant of arrest against him. But in the Duterte scheme, he is likely to be framed-up as a combatant with firearms and explosives planted despite his serious health condition,” Sison said.
He said that as a rebel negotiator, Ladlad was covered by an earlier agreement that granted him immunity from arrest.
But Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the agreement “is operative only if there are peace talks ongoing.”
“But that has been terminated by the proclamation of the president,” he said. “Secondly, the crime of rebellion is a continuing crime and therefore no warrant of arrest is needed for that.”
Karl Romano in Dagupan City contributed to this report.