COMMUNISTS on Negros Island said they are not ready for a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the Rodrigo Duterte government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) until President Rodrigo Duterte orders the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to stop targeting activists for assassination.
Speaking to journalists at a grassroots peace forum last December 22, National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Negros spokesperson Frank Fernandez said the AFP is “using the war on drugs as a justification” for targeting 16 activists all over the country, including an indigenous people’s leader.
The former Roman Catholic priest said that instead of respecting Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration in effect since August, the AFP is using the anti-narcotics campaign as a cover for counterinsurgency operations.
“This is why we cannot agree right away to a bilateral ceasefire with government because we have to secure the people in the areas where we operate against abuses like this,” Fernandez said.
Duterte had been exerting pressure on the NDFP to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement with his government, repeatedly threatening them that there will be no further releases of political prisoners unless he receives a signed declaration.
Fernandez for his part slammed the government’s anti-drug campaign and said Duterte’s approach “can never solve the problem.”
Anti-poor anti-drug campaign
Speaking in the same forum, New People’s Army (NPA) commander Juanito Magbanua said they initially appreciated Duterte’s efforts to solve the drug problems “but quickly saw something was wrong because most of those who have died are the poor.”
“Drugs reach the streets from above, from the drug lords and large distributors. Why not go after them first instead of killing only the poor, who are as much victims of the drug trade?” Magbanua asked.
The guerrilla commander said even the street pushers belong to the suffering poor.
“We are not saying they (pushers) are right but most of them were pushed to the trade by poverty,” he stressed.
Magbanua said that long before Duterte started going after drug addicts and pushers in Davao City, the NPA already had an anti-drug program in the guerrilla zones.
But while they share Duterte’s goal of eradicating illegal narcotics in the country, Magbanua said they “cannot agree to the extrajudicial executions whose targets are largely the masses.”
Both communist leaders said they are still waiting for Duterte to prove himself to the people, noting that in his first six months as president, “wala sang benepisyo sa masa (there have been no benefits for the masses).”
More than a hundred NPA guerrilla fronts are set to celebrate the Communist Party of the Philippines’ 48th founding anniversary tomorrow, December 26. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)