NPA to set up ‘humanitarian corridor’ for passage of COVID shots | Inquirer News

NPA to set up ‘humanitarian corridor’ for passage of COVID shots

/ 05:00 AM February 10, 2021

ILIGAN CITY, Lanao del Norte, Philippines — The communist New People’s Army (NPA) on Tuesday said it would open a “humanitarian corridor” to ensure the “safe and unimpeded passage” of COVID-19 vaccines through guerrilla bases and zones.

“It is a matter of principle for the NPA to respect all humanitarian undertakings that benefit the masses,” Marco Valbuena, information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), said in a statement.

Sabotage feared

The party issued the statement in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s call on Monday night for the communist rebels not to hamper the delivery of the vaccines to far-flung communities as the country geared up for the start of COVID-19 vaccinations next week.


In a televised address to the nation, Duterte expressed concern that the insurgents might sabotage the vaccine rollout, as they did with the government’s distribution of relief and cash aid during the coronavirus lockdown last year.


“I am appealing to the Communist Party of the Philippines, the umbrella [organization] . . . [to] guarantee that the vaccines, in the course of their being transported to areas where [there] are no city health officers or medical [workers], to please not touch the medicines,” Duterte said.

He said the Communist Party, its political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and armed wing, the NPA, should know that the vaccines were bought with public funds.

“The money belongs to the Filipino people. The credit goes to no one. This is for you, Filipino people. This is your money,” Duterte said, adding the communist rebels should observe international humanitarian law.

The President also warned all government employees not to hinder the flow of vaccines as the deliveries arrived in the country.

People not involved in the transport and storage of the vaccines, he said, should not interfere in the work of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the sole body authorized to handle vaccine delivery and use.

No role for Customs

Mr. Duterte referred in particular to Bureau of Customs personnel who would process the vaccine shipment, which would arrive in cold storage.


“Your only job in Customs is to look. You have no business to open things there. You are not allowed to do that. I am not allowing you, anybody there in the airport, to open them,” Duterte said.

The first batch of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive on Feb. 15. Duterte said the Philippine National Police would provide escorts who would “ensure the fastest way” for the vaccines to arrive in the storage center.

The communist insurgents gave assurance of safe passage but suggested that the transportation and distribution of vaccines and the vaccinations in areas under their influence be done by independent humanitarian agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Philippine Red Cross.

Valbuena noted that the personnel of these civilian humanitarian agencies are properly trained and they also have the equipment to undertake such missions.

“Non-Red Cross vehicles that will be used as COVID-19 vaccine transporters must be clearly and properly marked with a red cross over white background,” Valbuena said.

The guerrillas discouraged the government from deploying military vehicles carrying armed soldiers in transporting the vaccines.

“Over the past year, the [military] has been carrying out combat and psywar operations behind the veil of implementing COVID-19 restrictions,” Valbuena said.

Conditions rejected

The military expressed hope that the insurgents would keep their commitment, but rejected the conditions mentioned by Valbuena.

“While we hope that Mr. Valbuena can make good his commitment, it’s not up [to] him to dictate which vehicles to use if he cannot provide any alternative and if the only ones available and can perform the tasks best are military sea, air, and land vehicles. Those [vehicles] are there after all to cater to the interest and welfare of the people we are constitutionally mandated to protect and serve,” said Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the spokesperson for the military.

“We urge the CPP-NPA not to take advantage of the pandemic to salvage their reputation that they vastly eroded or attempt to build an image [that] is in stark contrast [to] what they are doing,” Arevalo said.

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With reports from Jerome Aning and Jeannette I. Andrade

TAGS: coronavirus Philippines

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