President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday formally proclaimed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist organizations, his spokesman said.
The designation means these groups will no longer be treated as political units but are fair game for arrest and prosecution, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. The move followed Duterte’s decision late last month to cancel peace talks with the communist rebels.
“It’s a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army a designated, identified terrorist organization under Republic Act (RA) No. 10168,” Roque told reporters at the Malacañang presidential palace.
A news release from the palace said the declaration would make it a criminal act to support and finance the groups.
“In particular, it freezes and forfeits the property or funds of those designated terrorists or terrorist organizations,” it said. “This is done in order to prevent and suppress terrorist activities.”
The order can go into effect only after a court approves it, Roque said.
7 guerrillas killed in south
Duterte’s declaration came on the day that Philippine forces reported killing seven communist guerrillas and taking over a rebel camp following days of gun battles in Lake Sebu town, on the southern island of Mindanao.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of local infantry battalion, said two soldiers were killed while 10 NPA guerrillas were captured since fighting broke out two days ago. On Monday, troops finally took over the rebel camp, he said.
“It was an intense fight,” Cabunoc told BenarNews.
The government earlier expressed reservations about placing the group on its terror watch list and has preferred to negotiate with the rebels to end their insurgency, which began in 1969, making the CPP-NPA rebellion one of the longest in Asia.
In 2002, the United States classified the CPP-NPA as terrorist groups, saying they were responsible for some of the most atrocious attacks on Filipino forces and communities.
The NPA, which has an estimated strength of about 5,000, claims to operate in 70 of the country’s 79 provinces. The Philippine military claims that communist guerrillas also have a working alliance with other rebel groups in the south, though it is extremely rare for the NPA to stage attacks backing up Muslim rebel groups.
Following his election last year, Duterte revived peace talks to end the Maoist-inspired conflict, which, according to the military, has claimed at least 30,000 lives. But he called off the negotiations on Nov. 22 after a rebel attack killed two civilians, including an infant girl, on southern Mindanao island.
“I don’t want to start a real violent war, but if the NPA, just like the terrorists, would do it, then we will grant them the favor,” Duterte said last week, as he called on rebel leaders he had earlier set free to participate in suspended peace talks to give up or face “punitive actions.”
Earlier, Duterte told troops to shoot the rebels on sight, promising that he would protect soldiers from prosecution.
“Shoot them! They will kill you anyway. If there is an armed NPA there or terrorist holding any firearms, shoot. … I’ll answer for you,” he said.
On Sunday, four police officers were wounded when about 100 NPA rebels briefly took over a remote town in the southern Philippines.
Last week, 15 NPA guerrillas were killed in a clash with troops and police outside Manila, including a guerrilla leader and a young woman who was later identified as a university activist who later joined the rebel ranks.
In Manila, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed the declaration, saying the military has long considered the CPP-NPA a “blight to the Filipino people” with its members also engaged in criminal activities.
“The government has walked the extra mile to accommodate them by resuming the talks,” Lorenzana said. “But they have imposed unreasonable conditions and continued their criminal acts such as kidnappings, attacks on the military and the police, destruction of property and extortion.”
He said the rebels were clearly in “pursuit of their selfish agenda.”
“Henceforth, they will be called communist terrorists,” Lorenzana said.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato contributed to this report.