The Philippines government removed the names of about 600 individuals and groups from its terrorist watch list following a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s justice department said.
The removal from the list of “terrorist and outlawed organizations” followed a Department of Justice petition filed on Jan. 3, the department said.
“This is a partial victory, but we cannot let our guard down,” said Jeanette Ribaya-Cawiding, a local activist whose named had been stricken from the list. Other prominent names that were removed include Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and Joan Carling, who was named 2018 Champion of the Earth by the U.N. Environment Program.
Names of 18 top communist guerrilla leaders remain on the list, including Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison and former chief peace negotiator Luis Jalandoni.
Sison, who taught Duterte, previously had a working relationship with the president. That relationship soured as peace talks between both sides faltered.
Both men have been trading barbs with Sison recently saying Duterte would likely be ousted this year.
Reacting to the latest development, Sison said his military group would intensify operations against the government even as members remained open to talks with the government.
“The revolutionary movement hopes and strives to win victories all the way to the overthrow of the Duterte regime and it is up to Duterte to offer peace negotiations for addressing the roots of the armed conflict,” Sison said in a statement.
“In the meantime, the NPA has no choice but to intensify the armed struggle even as we keep the door open to peace negotiations,” he added.
The NPA is the armed unit of the CPP, which has been waging the region’s longest communist rebellion spanning half a century.
Duterte accused the rebels of negotiating in bad faith, noting that the CPP-NPA had continued its attacks despite agreeing to a truce and the peace talks moving forward. He had hoped to end the rebellion that has left thousands dead and large parts of the countryside in dire poverty by the time he ends his six-year term in 2022.