MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang ordered law enforcement bodies, on Monday, to dismantle all makeshift checkpoints set up by the New People’s Army (NPA) in the countryside after Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III questioned the rebels’ authority to set them up in a country under “one government” and governed by “one President.”
President Aquino himself expressed “sadness” over Saturday’s attack, which wounded Gingoog Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona and killed two of her bodyguards when the mayor’s convoy passed by a makeshift checkpoint manned by rebels.
“I pledge, within my power and abilities (as President), and in the name of the law, to exact accountability from those responsible for this,” said President Aquino in a speech at a campaign rally in Jose Pelaez Roa Park in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental.
“We will relentlessly pursue and sweep down on the people behind this violence,” President Aquino said.
The attack on Mayor Guingona’s convoy happened in the hinterland village of Alatagan in Barangay Upper Kapitulangan of Gingoog City, another coastal town in Misamis Oriental.
The President was in Misamis Oriental as part of day-long community meetings with local leaders and members of Team PNoy, which also took him to Marawi City and Cagayan de Oro City.
The President’s statement came on the heels of Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III’s condemnation of the NPA attack, saying the latter “has fired upon an elderly and innocent woman who is already bowing out of politics.”
“We would like to remind everyone in this country that there is only one government of the Republic of the Philippines. There is only one President who is in charge of executing the laws of this land. That is President Noynoy Aquino. He is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Guingona said in a statement.
At a Palace briefing, Lacierda echoed the President’s resolve to get the perpetrators of the attack.
Asked to comment on Guingona’s statement that the rebel group should not be allowed to set up checkpoints anywhere in the archipelago, Lacierda said that the Palace had already ordered the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to find out why rebels could freely set up checkpoints in areas supposedly controlled by the guerillas.
“We would ask the AFP to give us some (explanation). The AFP will be in a better position to explain this. But we’ve been told already that the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion will be spearheading this investigation on this point,” he said, adding: “But those in the local can inform us and we will let our AFP units go and make sure that there are no NPA checkpoints.”
Lacierda also repeated calls for candidates not to give in to the rebels’ demand for the payment of permit to campaign (PTC) fee.
“Permit to campaign is not tolerated under our system of government,” declared the President’s spokesperson.
Besides the dismantling of checkpoints set up by communist rebels, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas also ordered the PNP to provide additional security blanket to local candidates if need be, said Lacierda.
“And, if you need personnel, if you need some help in campaigning,” the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) DILG can help, said Lacierda.
“Let me just clear it up with DILG because I’m not familiar how they (operate). They’re (DILG operatives) are not supposed to campaign for any candidate. But let me clarify with Secretary Mar Roxas as to what necessary protection can we give to them—to the campaign (in general),” said Lacierda.
On the stalled peace talks with the exiled rebel leaders, Lacierda said that there seemed to be a “disconnect” between Netherlands-based NDF leaders and their members on the ground.
“With respect to the peace process, it’s obvious that the CPP-NPA-NDF is not interested in pursuing peace talks with us. Our position has been very, very clear. We are committed to resolving the internal armed conflicts peacefully,” said Lacierda.
CPP-NPA-NDF stands for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front.
Issuing an apparently veiled threat against the rebels, Lacierda challenged the rebels to show sincerity in pursuing the peace process.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the Netherlands and the people on the ground. So is it worth discussing peace with them? Certainly, we would like to pursue peace talks with them but the burden is on the CPP-NPA-[NDF]. If they want to do so, we will pursue peace with them,” said Lacierda, quickly adding: “But if they’re not interested in pursuing peace, then we will prepare to defend our citizens.”
Asked if the Palace had given clear marching orders to the AFP or PNP to conduct an intensified crackdown on these NPA checkpoints, Lacierda said:
“The AFP is fully aware, and they have taken steps also to ensure that the politicians are spared from all these permit[s] to campaign. That’s the assurance that we were given by the AFP.
“Now, we would like to ask the local politicians, obviously, we, here in national government, would not be able to determine that. But those in the local can inform us and we will let our AFP units go and make sure that there are no NPA checkpoints. This is not tolerated under this system of government,” he said.