NPA’s planned plenum violated truce, military says after seizing supplies
BUTUAN CITY—Two motorcycles loaded with various supplies bound for Lahi village in Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte province, were stopped at a joint police-military checkpoint at Sapa village in Claver town on Saturday evening.
Joselito Esquivel Jr., the Caraga regional police chief, said the drivers, under intense questioning, admitted that their cargo—18 packs of black fatigue pants, 37 poncho tents and 1,000 bottles of soda—was intended for a plenum, or general assembly, of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), on Thursday.
The authorities confiscated the cargo, and checkpoints were strengthened in the areas surrounding the assembly’s venue.
On Sunday two wanted NPA rebels were arrested near Bacuag town in Surigao del Norte, said Brig. Gen. Maurito Licudine, commander of the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade.
“This led us to suspect the rebels were planning something big,” Licudine said.
He said the Army also monitored the movement of known rebels in Lahi, prompting him to dispatch troops to take up positions in the village.
Licudine said he also deployed four 105-mm howitzers and prepared to launch an assault on the rebels’ positions.
But he did not order an attack.
“What held us from [launching the assault] was our concern that the communist rebels would withdraw from the negotiating table,” Licudine said.
The military and the rebels were observing a ceasefire for the holiday season that began at midnight on Dec. 23 and would end at midnight on Jan. 7.
On Monday, Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal Jr., commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said the plenum violated the ceasefire agreement.
Gacal said the agreement was “clear that the rebels will not venture out of their camps.”
“But they have chosen to hold their activity near a village in Gigaquit town. That’s a clear violation,” Gacal said.
He said the Army was “duty-bound” to protect Sitio Bay-ang, at Lahi, where the rebels planned to hold the plenum and a mass wedding.
“It would take only a complaint from a resident and I will send in the troops,” he said.
Ka Oto, spokesperson for the NPA’s Front 16, told reporters by phone that planned activities for Monday were canceled because of the military movement near the venue.
‘It [would have been] a gathering of peace, a peaceful reunion of family and those (guerrillas) who had been away from their families,” Oto said.
The gathering would have also given the guerrillas a chance to exchange ideas about the proposed resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), he said.
Oto said the deployment of troops to villages around Lahi was a hostile act on the part of the military.
“This is about the question of sincerity. The movement of the Armed Forces shows that they are not in favor of the ceasefire and the peace negotiations,” Oto said.
He said the rebels were in Lahi not to consolidate their forces but “to celebrate Christmas, New Year, and be with our families.”
Inquirer sources from both the NPA and the Army said the plenum was already finished, and what remained to be done was the celebration of the CPP’s 51st anniversary.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday took offense at the NPA’s claim that government security forces were peace spoilers and opposed to the holiday truce.
In a statement, Lorenzana said the presence of troops at Bacuag should not have caused the cancellation of the plenum.
‘They can go ahead’
“So they have a plenum? They can go ahead. Our troops are not prohibited from doing their other duties such as law enforcement and assisting the local populace,” Lorenzana said.
“What the ceasefire prohibits them from doing is to engage the NPA in combat. Our troops will, however, react in self-defense,” he added.
The defense chief described the rebels’ claim that the military was opposed to the truce as “a preposterous accusation.”
“They, members of the terrorist CPP-NPA, are the peace spoilers. They prostituted and violated every ceasefire that had been declared,” Lorenzana said.
Speaking at M’lang, Cotabato province, on Monday afternoon, President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed the communist insurgency as “nothing but plain banditry” and said the insurgents were “devoid of ideology.”
Mr. Duterte, however, renewed his call for the CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison, to come home for “one-on-one” talks with him.
“We’re trying to have a talk, but what I want, I told Sison, ‘You come home and we will talk alone. Just the two of us. I don’t want a panel,’” Mr. Duterte said.
“I will ask him here, ‘What do you really want, you son of a bitch? What do you want? You want to destroy a country? Do you really think you can destroy the Philippines, you bandits?” he said.
Sison has rejected Mr. Duterte’s overture despite Malacañang’s assurance that he will not be arrested if he comes home for talks with the President.
Offer to rebels
Visiting earthquake victims in M’lang on Monday, Mr. Duterte renewed his offer of livelihood and houses to NPA guerrillas who would surrender to the government.
“Join us, since the government has money. Once you’re here [in the lowlands], I will have condominiums built for you, then you can study at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority,” Mr. Duterte said. —REPORTS FROM ERWIN MASCARIÑAS, FROILAN GALLARDO, RYAN ROSAURO, ORLANDO DINOY, WILLIAMOR MAGBANUA, JULIE M. AURELIO AND JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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