Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chair of the government panel, said the declaration of the NDF and its armed wing as a terrorist group is tantamount to scrapping the peace negotiations. Screengrab/Presidential Communications, File

Peace talks in jeopardy over Red’s imminent terror tag
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government peace panel will no longer resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) once President Duterte declares the group a terrorist organization.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chair of the government panel, said the declaration of the NDF and its armed wing as a terrorist group is tantamount to scrapping the peace negotiations.

The NDF is the umbrella of all communist groups in the country, including front organizations. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is its political arm, while the New People’s Army (NPA) is the armed wing.

“If the CPP-NPA is eventually declared as terrorist group, it would probably bring about the official termination of the peace talks,” Bello told The STAR.

Bello noted that the government does not negotiate with terrorist groups.

Last Saturday, Duterte announced his intention to declare the NDF, CPP and NPA as terrorist group. He also said he is no longer inclined to continue the peace talks.

“When the President mentioned that he might declare CPP-NPA as terrorist group, I am sure he has moral and legal basis, taking into account that he has the security sector, who provide him the necessary information to come up with the decision,” Bello said.

“We have given our position to the President and right now we are just waiting for his instruction. But I am not at liberty to disclose the recommendation of the panel,” he added.

Malacañang said yesterday there was nothing new in the President’s statement that he would declare the NDF, CPP and NPA as a terrorist group.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte merely agreed with the United States and the European Union that the NPA is a terrorist group. 

“To begin with, the plan to declare the NPA as terrorists is not new. The US is one of the first to classify the NPA as a terrorist group when the Patriot Act was enacted. The European Union Council also classified the NPA as a terrorist group,” Roque said in a press briefing.

“If the President makes such declaration, that means he agrees that the NPAs are really terrorists,” he added.

‘Duterte on propaganda war’

For Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms executive director Ramon Casiple, Duterte is now on a propaganda war against his critics, particularly those he has accused of plotting to destabilize his administration.

“I talked to President Duterte during the columnists meeting with him. He said there is a propaganda war going on in preparation, maybe, in the impeachment against him and the case to be filed before the International Criminal Court,” Casiple said in a forum on the Mindanao peace process at the Makati Diamond Residences yesterday.

“My personal opinion, the President is not satisfied (with the actions of NPA). Let’s talk without infighting. That’s what he wants.”

“It’s not just talk. The dynamics there is the claim of President Duterte that the NPAs are part of the destabilization. So, why do we have to talk when you are part of destabilization? Even if you are a rebel, when you are talking you should not attack the other side,” he added.

Women’s group Amihan also expressed concern over Duterte’s threat to proclaim CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

“Even before the proclamation, military attacks against lumad community schools in Mindanao continued and even worsened when Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and threatened to bomb lumad schools. During his term, 39 lumad schools were forcibly closed by state forces,” Amihan chair Zen Soriano said.

“The red-tagging of lumad schools was used by the Duterte regime and the AFP as a justification to perpetuate multiple human rights violations against lumads, especially the youth and children. What more when CPP-NPA has been declared as terrorist? How vicious could this regime be when it does not even differentiate civilians from rebel groups?” she added.

Meanwhile, senators welcomed Duterte’s plan to declare the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said declaring the CPP-NPA a terrorist group was Duterte’s prerogative being the commander-in-chief and having access to sensitive information from his security advisers.

“If the US declared the CPP-NPA-NDF a terrorist organization, why can’t we?” he added.

For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, “only a president with Duterte’s guts can declare the NPA as terrorists and that’s what they are for quite a long time.

“Their ideology has been gone more than a decade ago. They burn, destroy, kill innocent civilians to terrorize; they terrorize to sow fear and harass helpless civilians; they harass to extort under the guise of revolutionary taxation,” Lacson said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a critic of Duterte, said the plan to outlaw the CPP-NPA would only be lip service unless Duterte fires “communists” in his Cabinet.

“Until that day that Duterte actually fires all the communists in his Cabinet, I will assume that this recurring threat to declare the CPP-NPA-NDF as a terrorist organization is just lip service to appease and deceive the AFP,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes earlier said at least 12 senior officials and four Cabinet members were communists.

The appointments of former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo and former agrarian reform chief Rafael Mariano were rejected by the Commission on Appointments apparently because of their communist links.

Firefights

Before Bello announced the possible cancellation of peace talks, Army troops figured in an encounter with alleged members of the NPA in Nasugbu, Batangas yesterday morning after the discovery of a rebel camp in the area on Sunday.

As of yesterday afternoon, sporadic firefights between the opposing forces continued as the military pursues its quarry, according to the Philippine Army.

No casualty is reported on the part of government forces, while the rebel group has suffered an undetermined number of dead or injured. 

Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade which supervises the operations, said an enemy encampment was discovered on Sunday by troops from the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force under Maj. Engelberto Nioda.

“The encampment is believed to have been occupied by NPA terrorists belonging to KLG Honda, the same NPA group that incurred heavy casualties during our focused military operations in Batangas City last September,” he said.?The military said it disrupted the NPA’s plans to sabotage the ASEAN Summit as joint AFP and PNP forces had been conducting security operations to ensure the country’s peaceful hosting of the summit since early October.

Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, acting commander of the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command, said the NPA has been on the run since September. 

“Because of the PNP and soldiers’ sacrifices, commitment and dedication to their mission, the insurgents’ plans were disrupted and the terrorists were never given elbow room to execute those plans,” he said. - Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Rhodina Villanueva, Gilbert Bayoran, Artemio Dumlao, Ben Serrano

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