Military chief: Philippines won’t halt operations against communist guerrillas

BenarNews staff
Military chief: Philippines won’t halt operations against communist guerrillas Activists march in Quezon City, Metro Manila, to honor Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, who died three days earlier at age 83, Dec. 19, 2022.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The Philippine military on Wednesday ruled out a ceasefire with communist rebels and said it would carry on with counter-insurgency operations against them, a day after both sides announced a Norway-brokered agreement to resume peace talks.

Agreeing to a truce would only give the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, time to reorganize its depleted forces, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said.  

“Instead of moving forward with gains, we will just back off and this will give the NPA a chance to regroup? As far as the AFP is concerned, the fight continues,” Brawner told reporters during a military leadership summit in the northern province of Pampanga.  

“[W]e will continue with our mission and we will continue with our focused military operations,” Brawner said. 

Since Philippine communist leader Jose Maria Sison, 83, died in the Netherlands last December, the government has launched a series of attacks against the rebels, including killing at least six during a September gunbattle.

On Tuesday, government officials and communist party officials announced they had agreed to resume peace talks canceled in 2017 by then-President Rodrigo Duterte. 

The agreement, reached last week in Oslo through confidential meetings facilitated by Norway, called for establishing a framework to resume talks to end the rebellion that began in 1969. The communist insurgency, which has left tens of thousands of people dead and stunted growth in the Philippine countryside, is Asia’s longest-running active rebellion.

“Consequently, we envision and look forward to a country where a united people can live in peace and prosperity,” the statement concluded.

After the announcement, CPP spokesman Marco Valbuena said it was a “first half-step” toward resuming the talks. 

“To clear the road for peace negotiations, it is the distinct responsibility of President Ferdinand Marcos to take the initiative to sweep away the Duterte-period thorns and spikes which litter it,” he said.

Valbuena did not immediately respond on Wednesday to BenarNews requests for comment about Brawner’s statement.

Duterte, who took office in June 2016, canceled the talks after accusing the NPA of launching deadly attacks in the southern Mindanao region. 

His government went on to blacklist the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization and launch offensives against the groups. The military estimates that the guerrilla force has fallen to about 2,100 armed fighters, from at least 20,000 in the 1980s.

On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año rejected the communists’ call to lift the government’s designation of the NPA as terrorists. He said that would happen only if they agreed to a final peace agreement and to end their insurgency.

Año said the government wanted to avoid giving in to CPP demands without developments in the peace process.

He cited the release of rebel consultants as a goodwill gesture to participate in previous peace negotiations. When Duterte terminated those talks, the consultants did not turn themselves in.

“We want to avoid incidents in the past. They [the communists] made a lot of demands. What happened was that those who were released did not return, they went back to the mountain. That is our apprehension,” Año said.

The security adviser also said he would also not recommend a Christmastime truce with the rebels.

“Why do you have to recommend that when we know that what the CPP-NPA is doing, particularly the NPA, are purely violent activities,” Año said.

He said that not declaring a ceasefire would allow the military to accomplish its objective of dismantling NPA’s remaining 20 weakened guerrilla fronts.

MILF peace deal

Meanwhile in the southern Philippines, a nearly decade-old peace agreement has not been totally successful in quelling violence. 

In 2014, the Philippine government and leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrilla group signed the deal where the rebels were given the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

During the nine years since the agreement was signed, three other militant Muslim groups pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State and have tried to recruit former MILF guerillas to join their ranks. 

In addition, government troops have blamed MILF members for deadly ambushes in the volatile south.

Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.


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