The military on Friday urged communist rebels to abandon the armed struggle and return to the fold of the law, shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte said he was no longer interested in peace talks with their leaders in exile.
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“We have troops addressing the armed groups and the local government units are also helping in the promotion and conduct of local peace talks,” said the Public Affairs Office chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Col. Noel Detoyato.
“But now that it is formally declared by the President, the AFP will be relentless in pursuing the armed groups not only with arms but with offers for them to abandon the armed struggle and avail of the benefits offered by Task Force ‘Balik Loob’ and the counterpart benefits from the LGUs,” Detoyato said.
Task Force “Balik Loob” is the government body tasked to implement the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), a community-based national program to address the security, economic, social, and psychological rehabilitation needs of former members the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
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Surrendering rebels can get P15,000 in immediate assistance, P21,000 to defray the cost of meals, support for relocation, security for the former rebels and his family, P50,000 in livelihood assistance, temporary shelter, PhilHealth enrollment, medical assistance package, housing assistance or housing units, modified conditional cash transfer, legal assistance, and livelihood materials.
Detoyato said Executive Order 70, which institutionalized a whole-of-nation approach in attaining peace and created a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, would address the void left by the termination of the peace talks with the communist rebels.
“The local and international sources of funds fueling the armed rebellion and the groups fronting for them are now being addressed. With this, we are confident that this 50-year-old [CPP founder Jose Maria] Sison-induced insurgency is nearing its irreversible downward trend towards irrelevance,” he said.
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Duterte on Thursday night officially announced the permanent termination of the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF during the 122nd Philippine Army founding anniversary in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Duterte said he is no longer interested in peace talks with the rebels and bluntly told the leaders of the CPP to talk to the next president of the Philippines, as they continued to attack government security forces despite the ongoing peace talks.
“I’d like to announce that I am no longer entertaining any interventions or maybe persuasions in this democratic state of the Republic of the Philippines,” the President said.
The Chief Executive also said that the CPP could talk to the next president, indicating that there would be no more discussions under his administration.
“I already told the communist rebels, you do not know how to distribute lands. I have been at it actually ever since I became President,” he said.
Duterte also announced that during his remaining years as the head of state, he would finally put an end to the war against the Abu Sayyaf and illegal drugs.
“God willing, we’d be able… maybe just not really completely eradicate it but reduce the activities or the illegal trade and the fighting to the barest minimum,” the President said.
The CPP and NPA have been fighting the government since 1969. The NPA concentrates its attacks in rural areas and small-scale skirmishes with the military.
Previous attempts to forge a peace pact with the communist rebels have failed.
Also, during the event, Duterte congratulated the uniformed men and women of the Philippine Army for their significant milestones.
“Your accomplishments in both internal security and civil-military operations in many parts of the country are a testament to your unwavering commitment to defend our institutions and our democratic way of life,” the President said.
Duterte also commended the 550,000 successfully conducted operations of the Philippine Army that led to the recovery of almost 6,000 firearms, the neutralization of more than 600 enemies of the state, and the apprehension of more than 1,700 criminals.
He then reiterated the government’s unwavering commitment to improve the uniformed personnel’s capabilities through the Second Horizon of the Revised AFP Modernization Program and to continue to promote their welfare, as well as their families’ welfare, through housing programs.
“I assure you that we will continue to pursue these programs as an expression of the Filipino people’s appreciation for all that you have done for our country,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he believed the localized peace talks would have a better chance of success since the rebels on the ground no longer listened to Sison and other CPP leaders.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said localized peace talks were “a more practical and logical shift.”
“It doesn’t make sense to address the peace talks at the national level. After all, Joma Sison on many occasions has not shown control over the local insurgents still actively operating in the country,” Lacson said.
Meanwhile, NDF peace consultants Renante Gamara and retired priest Arturo Joseph Balagat were subjected to inquest proceedings at the Department of Justice in Manila on Friday following their arrest in Imus, Cavite.
The Philippine National Police brought Gamara and Balagat before Assistant State Prosecutor Florencio dela Cruz for inquest proceedings for illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in violation of Republic Act 10915.
The case filed against the two respondents by the PNP is deemed submitted for resolution after they decided to waive their right to undergo preliminary investigation.
Following the inquest proceeding, they were brought to the detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Gamara and Balagat were arrested Wednesday by police and soldiers in Poblacion II-A in Imus, Cavite.
During the operation, authorities said they seized a cal. 9mm pistol with magazine, two hand grenades, several electronic devices and gadgets containing subversive information, several documents and P90,000 in cash.
Gamara was already arrested in 2012 in Las Piñas City based on two arrest warrants, one concerning the kidnapping with murder of a soldier and the other for frustrated murder.
He was eventually allowed temporary release to participate in peace talks in Oslo, Norway in 2016.
But Gamara went into hiding after Duterte terminated the peace talks in 2017 and then ordered the arrests of consultants who had been freed to join in the negotiations.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes on Friday hit the Duterte administration for ending talks with the NDF.
Reyes also said localized peace talks do not present a clear framework for socioeconomic and sociopolitical reforms which form the substance of the peace talks and are “doomed from the start.”
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