Senators question inclusion of NPA as basis for martial law extension

Senators question inclusion of NPA as basis for martial law extension

Duterte said that NPA committed 385 “atrocities” in Mindanao, which resulted in deaths of 41 government forces and 23 civilians. NPA is also responsible for at least 59 arson incidents in the southern Philippines, he added. AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition senators questioned on Wednesday the inclusion of the New People’s Army as a ground to further extend martial law in Mindanao, which was declared to contain and defeat the Islamic State-inspired Maute group in Marawi City.

“The president cited the NPA for the first time in his extension. The NPA conflict was not cited in the original request. The NPA conflict has been there for the last four decades. Suddenly, the NPA has been cited as an additional ground for the extension of martial law in Mindanao,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said during the joint session of Congress.

The Senate minority leader asked: “Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?” Opposition groups have raised concerns that martial law, which surveys suggest has the support of Mindanao residents, will be expanded to the Visayas and Luzon.

Drilon also claimed that there is no basis to further extend martial law since there is no actual rebellion in Mindanao following the liberation of Marawi City in October.

NPA a spent force?

Quoting presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said that the NPA has been characterized as a spent force.

"Why use the NPA as the reason for extending martial law?" Hontiveros, a member of the Senate minority, said.

Hontiveros also noted that the extension of martial law or any move to repress civil liberties may strengthen rebel recruitment.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he does not know where Roque got his information that the NPA is a “spent force,” adding that the armed rebels recently staged attacks in Eastern and Southern Mindanao.

“NPA is not a main target of martial law. They are already branded as a terrorist organization because they have already alerted their troops on the ground to strengthen attacks,” Lorenzana explained.

The Defense department said in February, when peace talks with communist rebels first hit snags over political prisoners still in detention and alleged continuing counterinsurgency operations, that the NPA had grown to about 5,000 members across the country.

Lorenzana said then that he had received reports stating that there had been a "surge" in recruitment by the NPA. 

READDuterte declares CPP-NPA as terrorist groups

In his letter to Congress, Duterte cited continued threats from Islamic State-linked extremists, local terrorists and communist rebels as the primary reason to justify the extension of martial law for another year.

“A further extension of the implementation of martial and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao will help the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and all other law enforcement agencies to quell completely and put an end to the ongoing rebellion in Mindanao and prevent the same from escalating to other parts of the country,” the president wrote.

He dedicated five paragraphs out of 17 to detail alleged atrocities committed by the NPA.

Duterte said that NPA committed 385 “atrocities” in Mindanao, which resulted in deaths of 41 government personnel and 23 civilians.

NPA is also responsible for at least 59 arson incidents in the southern Philippines, he added.

On December 5, Duterte signed a proclamation classifying the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, as terrorist groups.

On November 23, Duterte formally terminated negotiations with communists through Proclamation 360, citing the rebels’ supposed failure to display sincerity to the peace process.

The New People’s Army, the armed wing of the rebels, has earned Duterte's ire for staging attacks that killed civilians.

Martial law was declared on May 23, within hours of the Maute attack on the capital of Lanao del Sur. The extension was approved by Congress in July until December 31 this year.

READDuterte formally terminates peace talks with Reds

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