President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said there are now fewer New People’s Army (NPA) activities taking place since the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and its regional task forces to address armed conflicts at the local level.
Duterte acknowledged that the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA (CPP-NPA) continues to perpetuate violence by killing soldiers, police, and civilians in the country, but in “a very small scale” this time.
“There has been really quite a reduction of the NPA activities. They are in Mindanao but limited to Northern Mindanao including Davao City. May mga dalawa nalang o almost pawala na. At sana naman ganun ang mangyari sa ibang regions (There are just two or almost none. And I hope it will also happen in other regions), I said, because violence is really despicable to me,” he said in a speech in Lucena City.
Because of this, he said the national government is “winning” the war against the communist insurgency in the country.
Duterte also said the NTF-ELCAC made great efforts to convince communist rebels to return to the fold of the law.
“My order was really to accept them with open arms and talk to them. At alam mo sa totoo lang, sa (And to be honest, in) Mindanao, when they surrender automatic may mga bahay na kaagad sila (they are immediately given houses). We’ve built so many houses for them because we know we have to accommodate the surrenderers at akala ko nga (and I thought) I could maybe change the severity of the moment,” he said.
He, however, reminded task force officials to ensure that they not only focus on the ending of local communist armed conflict but also in uplifting the living conditions of the citizens in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas through its Barangay Development Program (BDP).
“This can be done through the provision of the much needed services and public utilities such as improved farm-to-market roads anywhere in the Philippines—‘yan po talaga ang hinihingi ng Pilipino (that’s what the Filipinos are asking for)—school buildings, especially built in areas where there is a congregation of new settlements,” he said.
He thanked the NTF-ELCAC members for consistently standing up against the communist insurgency in the region.
“Since your inception, you have brought significant improvements in the government’s fight against communist insurgency to a whole-of-a-nation approach and in the delivery of the basic services in conflict affected areas and vulnerable communities. In all these efforts, we recognize the importance of grassroots participation of our people, especially at the barangay level in attainment of the peace and serenity that we crave for,” he said.
Duterte also said he is “certain” that the country will eventually be able to stop the decades-old communist insurgency in the country.
“With our unrelenting spirit, I am certain that we will overcome the challenges ahead. Rest assured that the collective strength of the Filipino people is behind you as we work towards genuine and lasting progress for our mother land,” he added.
In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order 70 creating the NTF-ELCAC aimed at putting an end to the treacherous life cycle of the more than five decades of insurgency—his campaign promise.
The CPP-NPA has been declared as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
Duterte also took a swipe at the International Criminal Court (ICC) anew for being concerned over suspects killed in the government’s massive campaign against illegal drugs instead of appreciating efforts to stop drug proliferation in the country.
“What they show to the ICC is the death of some criminals, yung napatay lang (those killed). Yung masabi na pinatay dito ng army, pinatay dito ng pulis, hindi nga malaman kung sino and for what, basta kung may patay dyan at walang suspect, walang tao, diretso na ka agad sa kanila and they would say EJK [extrajudicial killings] (Those killed by soldiers, police, we don’t know who or for what, as long as there are deaths, no suspect, they would say they are EJKs),” he said.
Duterte said former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is worried over the ICC probe.
He reiterated his promise to assume full responsibility for his drug war that is now under scrutiny by the international court.
“I assume full responsibility. Kaya ang sabi ko kay Bato wag kang mag ano, keep quiet there and just, ako turo mo ako. Si Duterte ang nag utos. Kung ano man yang nasa listahan mo, utos ni Duterte yan (That’s why I told Bato, just be quiet there and point me. Say Duterte ordered me to do it. Whatever is on your list, say it was Duterte’s order). And I will answer for all he said,” he said.
Duterte said he will only answer to local courts, adding that he is ready to defend himself from a possible investigation into his drug war.
“If there is any person who is going to prison it would be me but it should be a Filipino court manned by a Filipino judge and me prosecuted by a Filipino prosecutor,” he added.
Last month, the ICC’s pre-trial chamber approved the request of its former chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to conduct a full-blown investigation into Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. (PNA)