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Palace tags Reds bandits

Govt scuttles peace process after  attacks by CPP-NPA The Palace on Wednesday branded the communist rebels as bandits, lumping them with the Abu Sayyaf kidnap gangs and effectively scuttling new talks to end the 45-year insurgency. “They have been reduced to a bandit group,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the National Democratic Front and their armed wing, the New People’s Army. “There is no ongoing peace process.” The Palace statement came in the wake of Saturday’s ambush staged by communist rebels against Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona in Misamis Oriental, which killed her civilian bodyguard and driver and left the mayor wounded. The rebels also launched two separate attacks in Mindanao and took an Army private hostage Wednesday. “They have to show their sincerity, not us. We have shown our sincerity. The burden shifted to them a long time ago. Our commitment is there but is the commitment of the CPP-NDF-NPA there? We have not seen it,” Lacierda added. Lacierda also used tough language in challenging the NPA to take on the military and not civilians. “There is a Marine battalion that’s moved to the 4th Infantry Division which covers Misamis Oriental. So the approximate headcount for the Marines is 500 people, and hot pursuit operations are now ongoing in Misamis Oriental,” Lacierda said. Addressing the communist rebels, he added: “You want to challenge us? Go ahead, make our day.” In a display of defiance, the rebels on Wednesday took a soldier hostage in Maco town and fired on a police station in Mabini Town, both in Compostela Valley. In Maco, rebels attacked Army soldiers who were buying food and supplies in town and dragged away PFC Jesus Tomas, the military said. Tomas is a member of the 71st Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Jerry Borja, whose unit had killed a minor when they fired upon a group of suspected rebels. Army reinforcements pursued the rebels. In Mabini town, NPA rebels fired grenade launchers at the police station at the national highway, damaging the structure and shattering its windows. No one was injured in the attack. Witnesses said they saw two men riding on a motorcycle firing M203 grenade launchers at the police station from 30 meters away. The communists earlier belittled President Benigno Aquino III’s order to dismantle rebel checkpoints as “empty bluster” that the military and police “are incapable of enforcing.” The CPP also ordered its armed wing to set up more “election checkpoints” to “enforce the prohibition against the bearing of firearms by election candidates and their escorts” in areas the rebels claim to control. Last month, government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA have bogged down, adding that it was “a waste of time” to negotiate with the rebel group. “I don’t think we should waste our time [negotiating with the CPP-NDF]. They always find ways and means to look for an issue,” Padilla said. “Effectively they have scuttled the talks under the special track. All the more that we cannot expect the regular track to resume,” he added. NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni earlier accused the government of trying to trap the communist group into signing an indefinite ceasefire while refusing to release detained consultants and NPA leaders. Jalandoni said a planned meeting between Mr. Aquino and CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison early this year in Hanoi will no longer push through because of the government’s failure to deliver its commitments during the last meeting under the special track of the talks in February. The Palace denied Jalandoni’s claim of a planned meeting, however, saying there was “no meeting of the minds” during the special track meeting. “The special track was an initiative of Sison, where both sides agreed that they would not be bogged down by conditions, like the release of prisoners,” Padilla said. Meetings under the special track began late last year, when the two sides agreed to discuss a Common Declaration of National Unity and Just Peace, which would lead to an immediate truce. “Unfortunately, Sison put so many conditions last February that the special track has become tedious, onerous and next to impossible to continue,” Padilla added. The government and the rebels last held informal talks in February 2011.  With Francisco Tuyay and Florante S. Solmerin
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