The Philippine military said Thursday it would maintain its offensives against communist insurgents and other rebel groups, signaling that a traditional Christmas truce would not take place this year.
Officials said the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was gearing up for a show of force to mark its half century mark on Dec. 26.
“I have objected to a suspension of offensive military operations. We shall not allow the insurgents to use it to celebrate their 50th anniversary,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said a ceasefire was useless because communist rebels have not been sincere with the suspension of military operations in the past.
Each Christmas both sides declare a unilateral truce to allow rebels and soldiers to spend time with their families, but Arevalo emphasized that the insurgents have persisted with their attacks.
“They continue with their terroristic and criminal activities, extortion, harassment, etcetera and we do not want to give them the opportunity to gather and mass up to joyfully celebrate their 50th anniversary,” Arevalo said.
“We still give peace a chance especially during Christmas time but this time we see that it is not working to the advantage and best interest of our people. So we are not inclined to go with the declaration of traditional suspension of military operations,” he said.
Ocampo, Castro are ‘active communists,’ military spokesman says
Arevalo said military and police authorities are standing by their position that Satur Ocampo, a former congressman, and France Castro, a current member of the House of Representatives, are “active communist rebels.”
The two were arrested last week along with several others while allegedly recruiting minors from a tribal community in the town of Talaingod, in the southern province of Davao del Norte. Both had denied the accusation, and have been released, even as the military said it was preparing to file charges against them.
“This goes to show that the activities of Ocampo and Castro in Talaingod are part of a bigger machinery and scheme involving what the CPP-NPA has dubbed as Lumad Schools,” Arevalo said.
“These schools are at the center of CPP-NPA exploitation of the native Mindanaoans who are being radicalized at a very young age by rebel supporters who pose as concerned teachers. The indoctrination is meant to prepare the youth to become NPA cadre in the future,” he said.
Exiled communist movement leader Jose Maria Sison, however, said that their negotiating panel would still declare a unilateral ceasefire, but would keep the guns silent unless attacked by government forces.
Sison, in a statement from his base in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said the insurgents’ temporary unilateral ceasefire “demonstrates the high morale and self-confidence of the revolutionary forces and people in their all-round strength.”
Arevalo said it would be up for President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a truce. But all the signs pointed to the president’s increasing aggressiveness against insurgents.
Last month, Duterte warned he would form a “death squad” to counter the rebels’ “sparrow unit,” small assassination squads manned by the communists.
But the “sparrow unit” has largely been inactive since the 1980s, when it carried out a string of attacks targeting allegedly corrupt state officials and police officers.
The NPA has been waging a guerrilla campaign in the countryside for the past five decades. Military estimates placed the NPA strength at more than 5,000 men scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts throughout the country.
Arevalo, in updated “scorecard” figures released this week, said that from January to November this year, 116 NPA rebels had been killed and 172 others arrested. Almost 2,000 firearms had been seized and about 300 rebel encampments were overran, he said.
Jeoffrey Maitem from Cotabato City contributed to this report.