PAQUIBATO DISTRICT, Davao City—The New People’s Army’s (NPA) Pulang Bagani Battalion led the celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) 48th founding anniversary in this upland community yesterday in a show of force in President Rodrigo Duterte’s own hometown.
Displaying their growing might and popularity with the people of Mindanao, the revolutionary Left said they are ready to confront the Government of the Republic of the Philippines’ (GRP) Armed Forces of the Philippines as soon as the unilateral ceasefire declarations by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Duterte’s government are suspended.
Making a rare public appearance, NPA’s Alvin “Ka Joaquin” Luque said they are trying their best not to engage the AFP in fire fights in deference to the NDFP’s unilateral ceasefire declaration.
“Nagtitimpi lang ang NPA para hindi madiskaril ang ceasefire. Pero sa oras na tapusin ito, handang-handa ang NPA na parusahan ang mga militar na nagkakampo sa mga komunidad,” Luque said.
In the first ever national peace forum held in a People’s Democratic Government territory dubbed “The People’s War is the People’s Peace,” NDFP leaders said there are 417 barangays all over the Philippines which suffered from GRP’s own unilateral ceasefire declaration.
“Since July, there have been 18 activists killed and cases of frustrated murder committed by the AFP who are now encamp in civilian communities in the guise of peace and development programs,” Luque said.
NDFP peace negotiators informed tens of thousands of participants and GRP officials that the NDFP may soon terminate their unilateral ceasefire declarations because of AFP violations.
“Hindi na siguro magtatagal ang ceasefire dahil hinihiling na ng masa na itigil na ito. Hindi sila maipagtanggol ng NPA samantalang tuloy-tuloy ang violations ng AFP,” NDFP negotiating panel member Coni Ledesma said.
“The peace negotiations should continue despite the absence of a ceasefire. It has been done before with previous governments. It should be ‘talk-talk, fight-fight,’” Ledesma said.
GRP negotiating panel chairperson Silvestre Bello, who led five other cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries as head of the Duterte government’s representatives to the forum, for his part said that the NDFP’s position is possible.
“Yes, the peace negotiations may still continue even without unilateral ceasefire declarations. But it should be because we have graduated to a bilateral ceasefire agreement already,” Bello said.
The GRP led by Duterte has been calling on the NDFP to sign a bilateral agreement before more than 400 more political prisoners are released.
The NDFP refused saying AFP violations of its own ceasefire prevents them from agreeing to the GRP proposal.
The NDFP also clarified that the release of political prisoners is a matter of justice which Duterte recognized when he promised he will amnesty the detainees.
The NDFP and the Duterte GRP are set to hold their third round of formal talks on January 18 to 24 in Rome, Italy.
The NPA said its strength in Mindanao is at its biggest as proven by more celebrations in other parts of the island.
In Northeastern Mindanao, the CPP said another 25,000 supporters and civilians attended seven other celebrations across Caraga.
Six thousand supporters attended the CPP celebration in Barangay Anticala, Butuan City and 400 attended the CPP anniversary gathering in San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
The CPP also said that 7,000 civilians attended the peace forum and celebration in Marihatag and another 2,000 in Tago municipalites of Surigao del Sur.
Other peace forums were also held yesterday in Surigao City and two other undisclosed towns in Surigao del Norte.
NPA fighters usually start CPP anniversary celebrations with military parades and singing of the communist hymn “Ang Internasyunal.”
The Pulang Bagani Battallion’s military parade and demonstration in Davao City yesterday was the biggest such event staged by the NPA in many years. (Raymund B. Villanueva)