An official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed Wednesday that the communist fighters in the New People's Army are a “target” of martial law in the large southern island of Mindanao. The statement clarifies conflicted signals from the government since Malacañang issued the martial order on May 23, 2017, amid battles between the military and the allegedly Islamic State group-linked Maute group.
"The NPA issued an attack order, a directive that said you should heighten attacks versus PNP (Philippine National Police) and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)," military spokesman and Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told reporters, according to local ABS-CBN news. "It's a tit for tat ... If there were no declarations, it would not have been a part of it."
Padilla noted, however, that the targeting of the red fighters doesn't preclude a continuation of peace talks that were sidelined last month following a war of words between the government and left forces in the country. The peace talks hinge on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, or CASER, an ambitious reform agenda seen as the prerequisite to ending East Asia's longest-running communist insurgency.
The NPA are the armed struggle wing of the clandestine Communist Party of the Philippines, which initially reacted to the issuance of the martial order by President Rodrigo Duterte with an order to “intensify tactical offensives” against government targets and a call to the Filipino people to “unite all forces to oppose military rule in Mindanao and resist plans to impose all-out authoritarian rule in the country.”
Since then, the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines — the revolutionary united front representing the communist fighters and allied social movements — have attempted to calm the situation, at one point even discussing a common front against the Islamist fighters of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf.
However, the guerilla fighters have rejected Duterte's calls for the CPP-NPA to unilaterally declare a cease-fire in the absence of a continuation of peace talks, calling the president's appeals “empty rhetoric and hot air.”
On July 1, NPA fighters ambushed a Philippine Army unit in Monkayo, a municipality in Mindanao's Compostela Valley, claiming the lives of seven soldiers and confiscating the unit's weaponry.
“President Rodrigo Duterte is hallucinating if he thinks mere words and not deeds can stop the revolutionary war waged by the New People’s Army and the revolutionary forces in the country,” NPA spokesperson Roel Agustin II said in a statement cited by Davao Today, adding that the president himself hasn't ceased to wage offensives against the Philippine people.
“(Duterte) has distanced himself from solving the problems that have bred the long-standing armed resistance: land monopoly, foreign domination, and fascism,” Agustin added. “Instead, he would rather insult the revolutionary movement, depart from his much-ballyhooed Leftist stance, and wage all-out war in the countryside,” Agustin continued, noting that the NPA offensives would continue elsewhere “to defend the masses.”
The famously hot-headed president has veered between launching tirades against the communist movement and flattering it, a continuation of a decades-long pattern dating back to his time as Davao mayor. On various occasions since the martial order was declared, Duterte has also threatened to jail critics and widen martial rule to encompass neighboring islands such as the Visayas and Luzon.
The country's leftists have accused the Philippine Army and police of using martial law in Mindanao to crack down on organized workers and social movements. Last Thursday, several progressive leaders were arrested at a checkpoint in Davao City on the grounds of being “suspicious individuals.” In early June, government forces attacked banana workers in Compostela Valley who were on strike, dismantling their encampment and arresting union leaders.
The Philippine Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of martial law Tuesday, spurring Duterte to declare that military rule would remain in effect “until all enemies of the state” are wiped out, according to The Philippine Star.
“The Supreme Court decision seems to confirm that a growing consensus among the ruling classes and their foreign sponsors is brewing on the desirability of martial law as a means of ensuring the implementation of anti-people neoliberal policies,” Anakbayan National Secretary General Einstein Recedes said in response to the ruling.
“It is now up to the Filipino people to collectively mobilize in their numbers to strongly oppose martial law and intensified fascism in our land,” Recedes added, noting that the decision would be met by massive protests.