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Terror bill under review; Duterte says Reds top threat
“My legal (team) is still reviewing it… I haven’t received it. I had it reviewed,” Duterte said.
PPD/Ace Morandante, File

Terror bill under review; Duterte says Reds top threat

Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Even as President Duterte has yet to sign the new anti-terrorism bill pending the advise of his legal team which will check on possible constitutional infirmities of the measure, the Chief Executive identified communist rebels as the “number one threat” to the country today, amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“My legal (team) is still reviewing it… I haven’t received it. I had it reviewed,” Duterte said.

“It’s always… automatic. ’Pag daan sa akin (When a bill is submitted to me), I endorse it to legal, without even reading it actually… if you want really to know. It’s legal who will return it to me with a recommendation whether I will approve it or not,” he added.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte could be referring to the Office of the Executive Secretary and the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs or DESLA.

“The President said he needs one to two days before he can decide whether to sign the anti-terror (bill). He stressed the need to check if it has any constitutional infirmity,” Roque said.

“The President is a lawyer, and that’s why he can have his own conclusion if the measure has provisions that would violate the Constitution,” he added.

‘No. 1 threat’

While the proposed measure is being reviewed, Duterte called communist rebels the “number one threat to the country” and assailed them for attacking government troops who are distributing aid for those affected by the COVID-19 health crisis.

The President said the pandemic has been taken advantage of by “forces arrayed against us” including the Abu Sayyaf, which he described as “terrorists with no ideology,” and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

He added that the CPP has an ideology but with a “more pernicious” effect that “could undermine the peace and security of our country.”

“Terrorism is number one in our list. Actually the number one threat to the country, hindi (not) Abu Sayyaf, hindi yung mga terorista (not the terrorists) of no value. Itong high value targets, ito yung mga komunista (The high value targets are the communists),” Duterte said during a meeting of the government’s task force on COVID-19 late last Monday.

“Kaya ang utos ko talaga sa Armed Forces, sa sundalo, upakan mo, upakan mo (That’s why my directive to the Armed Forces, the soldiers, is to hit them),” he added.

‘COVID No. 1 priority’

Roque, however, clarified that the pandemic remains the “number one priority” of the government.

“Although he said (the communist rebels are) number one, of course, COVID is still number one because almost all the attention of the government is on COVID,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

“But in terms of defense and national security, the biggest impediment or threat is the communist. That’s what the President meant because it cannot be denied that the whole world is addressing COVID,” he added.

The fight against the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the communists, has been troubling the country for five decades, according to Duterte. He said the effects of communist insurgency “could undermine the peace and security of our country not only (in) this administration” and “can transcend to the next generation.”

“It has undermined the national security of the country,” the President said.

“At what point will the country suffer a downfall? I don’t know. But if I do not do my duty now as President, as the other presidents did when it was their time, we might just bargain away, place in jeopardy the democratic values that the Filipinos have enjoyed for the longest time,” he added.

Duterte said rebels had used a Gillette blade to kill a policeman who joined a government aid distribution effort.

“There was never a time when we hurt an NPA prisoner in Mindanao. We don’t even allow the mosquitoes to bite them,” he added.

Duterte claimed that the rebels only talk about the Geneva Convention, which protects prisoners of war, when it favors them.

“That’s the riddle that I cannot understand. If you fight as a matter of principle, stand by it. ‘Yes, we killed him because he was an enemy.’ That’s more acceptable to me,” he said.

Duterte expressed hope that the NPA won’t sabotage the second tranche of the aid program for sectors sidelined by the pandemic.

He also warned the rebels that the government could trace the movement of their money.

“All operating private entities, corporations in Mindanao contributed money to you, we know that. We know it did not come from transactions with people in agricultural areas,” the President said.

“The money is deposited here in Manila, to the bank account of (the National Democratic Front), of course, under a fictitious name. Well, all of these things, I said, I hope that I will not have to do something...more drastic. Like just really looking at your bank accounts. There are a lot of money movements,” he added.

Duterte expressed hope that he won’t reach the point where he has to kill the rebels.

“When I say I will kill you, even if I won’t do it myself, we will kill each other, including me,” he said.

Redeployment

As COVID-19 quarantine restrictions ease, the military is now preparing to redeploy its troops to again focus on ending the country’s insurgency problems.

“We will strike while the iron is hot,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told reporters yesterday, citing the recent gains of government forces against the NPA.

Arevalo said the military would pursue its operational initiatives against what it now refers to as a Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) “and seize the momentum, given the string of successes we had very recently.”

He bared that from June 16 to 23 alone, at least 10 NPA members were killed in operations, including a rebel group leader operating in Occidental Mindoro and a member of the so-called Morong 43.

He added that around 22 rebel group and Milisya ng Bayan members surrendered or were captured with at least 26 firearms, an improvised explosive device, four rifle grenades, two electronic devices and flash drives containing important information that were either seized or captured during the same period.

“And now that the number of areas on ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) that were placed on GCQ (general community quarantine) continues to increase, more and more AFP personnel can now be redeployed to further step up the tempo of focused military operations,” he noted.

“If our current deployments have already been reaping success, we are confident that the fresh troops that will be brought back to the frontlines will have positive impact in our campaign against the CTG and the LTG (local terrorist group),” Arevalo said. Edith Regalado, Michael Punongbayan, Roel Pareño, Emmanuel Tupas, Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva, Pia Lee-Brago

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