MANILA, Philippines — The Department of National Defense (DND) said on Monday that the military would continue its “law enforcement operations” against communist rebels, a day after the Maoist group raided a police station in Iloilo and disarmed its officers.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana criticized the communist hierarchy for failing to rein in its forces after the New People’s Army attacked a police station in Maasin, Iloilo on Sunday morning and snatched away the policemen’s rifles, pistols, bullets and radios.
Lorenzana said that the military would arrest any member of the NPA who committed “terroristic acts” despite the pronouncement of government peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III, concurrently Labor secretary, that Philippine security forces would not launch offensives against the communist armed wing. Bello’s statement was in response to a similar statement by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to pave the way for a resumption of peace talks and to allow security forces in Mindanao to focus on retaking Marawi from Islamic State-inspired terrorists.
“Thus, any member of the NPA who continues to commit terroristic acts such as extortion, burning of property, kidnapping, roaming around with firearms to intimidate people, and attacks on government forces will be pursued, apprehended, and brought to justice,” he said.
The US lists the NPA as a terrorist organization, a label the group has been trying to remove for years.
The Defense secretary said that the attack showed that the “upper echelons of the communist movement” did not have control of NPA units on the ground.
He said that NPA fighters continued to commit “atrocities” even though the NDFP, also known as the NDF, is negotiating a peace deal with the government to end the decades-long rebellion, already one of the longest in the world.
“Recent events have shown that the upper echelons of the communist movement do not have actual control of NPA units on the ground, which continue to commit atrocities even while their comrades talk peace with the government,” Lorenzana said.
He added: “Nakita naman natin kung ano ang ginawa nila sa Maasin, Iloilo kamakailan lamang, kung saan inatake nila ang isang police station at nagnakaw ng armas upang gamitin ito laban sa mga inosenteng sibilyan.”
On Sunday, the NPA raided a police station in Maasin town in Iloilo and took away the firearms and bullets of the policemen. Authorities said that the rebels also took personal items and cash from the police officers, but the Maoist fighters denied this claim.
NPA-Panay: Raid was on corrupt cops
Julio Montana, spokesperson for NPA-Panay, acknowledged the attack in a statement on Sunday. He said that the NPA was able to “confiscate” 11 M16 rifles, four pistols, bullets and VHF radios.
Montana claimed that the NPA disarmed the police officers because they were involved in extortion of vendors at the town’s center and have been negligent in their duty to arrest the spread of illegal drugs and gambling.
He added that the attack was a response to what the group claimed was the government’s “all-out war” against the rebels.
The raid came after both the government and the NDF announced a stop to the offensives in Mindanao, so security forces could focus on their offensives against Islamist militants still holed up in Marawi City.
Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, said that the latest attack by the NPA was “disheartening” and would have impact on the peace negotiations.
He said that since there was not a mutually-agreed bilateral peace agreement yet the Armed Forces and the police should deal with the incident “accordingly and decisively.”
The government of President Rodrigo Duterte has aggressively pursued the peace process with the NPA-NDF in an effort to end one of the longest rebellions in the world.
He has appointed left-leaning individuals in his Cabinet and has branded himself a socialist.