Kitcharao, AGUSAN DEL NORTE—The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) further gained strength despite more than five years of brutal counter-insurgency operations by the Benigno Aquino government, a top rebel leader said during their 47th founding anniversary celebrations in this town last December 26.
National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Mindanao spokesperson Jorge ‘Ka Oris’ Madlos said that the New People’s Army (NPA) now has six more guerilla fronts from 40 at the start of the Aquino administration in five regions of Mindanao.
Madlos added that the NPA’s operations in Mindanao now cover 2,500 barrios from 1,850 five years ago.
“These ever expanding and deepening bases render great advantage to the NPA’s maneuver, the launching of tactical offensives (TO), the recruitment of Red fighters, the implementations of widespread agrarian revolution and the launching of mass struggles,” Madlos in a video message said.
A company of uniformed guerillas presented arms while the communist hymn “Ang Internasyunal” was sung to start a three-hour program marked with speeches, songs and skits that delighted the thousands of supporters, well-wishers and guests who attended the event.
The fact that a single NPA Front can organize and successfully hold a big public event despite threats and harassments by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Magahat paramilitary group is proof that Oplan (Operation Plan) Bayanihan 1 and 2 have failed, Guerilla Front 16 spokesperson Ka Utok said.
Threats and harassments
Government troops set up checkpoints on roads leading to the venue of the celebrations but were ignored by convoys of vehicles carrying visitors to the guerrillas’ celebrations.
More than a dozen journalists also covered the event despite threats by the Magahat paramilitary group that they would kill those who will cover the anniversary celebrations.
In a press conference after the main program, Utok and Front 16 political officer Ka Edroy condemned threats made by Magahat leader Loloy Tejero as part of a single act by the paramilitary group, the Philippine Information Agency and the Aquino government.
“It was the PIA who disseminated Tejero’s threat to kill journalists who will cover our celebrations and it is proof they are colluding in this criminal act,” Ka Edroy said.
Philippine Army public information officer Col. Benjamin Hao however belied the NPA’s accusation as well as claims of increased strength and influence.
No SOMO violations by Philippine Army
“The threat of the Magahats, if it is true, is of their own doing. We do not have anything to do about it,” Hao said.
“If journalists have problems on that, we will provide necessary assistance if they request from us, the PNP (Philippine National Police) or they can file an appropriate case,” Hao added.
The government army spokesperson belied their checkpoints were directed against the NPA and their supporters. He said no operation is conducted to violate the suspension of military operations (SOMO) with the NPA. The checkpoints, Hao claimed, were for the tower posts of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).
There were no reports of NGCP towers under threat of attack in Kitcharao town where the NPA held their celebrations, however.
Hao also dismissed Madlos’s statements as “highly exaggerated”.
He said that based on AFP records, the NPA strength of 2,035 has gone down to 1,691 followers this year. He added that the NPA’s most significant decline is in the number of their guerilla fronts, which used to be 29 but is now down to 24.
Hao said further that out of the 547 NPA-influenced barangays, it is now down to 413. On firearms count, he said the NPA lost 101 firearms this year. “They also lost a lot of leaders, especially Commander Parago,” Hao added.
“These are contrary to what are being claimed by the NPA spokesman of Mindanao (Madlos)…So wherever he got his number, he is now accountable to his boss in The Netherlands,” Hao said, referring to CPP founder Jose Maria Sison.
Despite threats by the Magahat and the presence of checkpoints on roads leading to the venue, the celebrations started on time this year.
To the delight of the crowd, the performers did not mind rolling on the ground rendered muddy by the intermittent rains.
Unlike last year, tents were put up to protect the crowd from the sun and the rain.
Before lunch time, dozens of lechon (whole roast pig) arrived strapped on “skylab” motorcycles that were served with fried chicken and rice.
Youthful NPA fighters took over the stage and sang as their guests started trekking back down to the main roads at around two in the afternoon.
On spots along the mountain roads, skylabs laden with big canisters were parked and ice cream was offered for free to the visitors.
The Philippine Army checkpoint at the corner of the provincial road and the national highway was gone by the time the main body of the attendees made their way back home. # (News and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)