Philippines wages counterinsurgency on multiple fronts

Authorities in Manila put security forces on alert after the arrest last week in the Netherlands of the exiled leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The arrest last week in the Netherlands of the exiled leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has waged a Maoist insurgency since 1969, is creating ripples at home. Its founder, Jose Maria Sison, is accused of plotting the murder of two political associates killed in Manila in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Sison, who denies the accusations, has been indicted under Dutch law and doesn't face imminent extradition to the Philippines. Authorities in Manila put security forces on alert against any reprisals by the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).

The BBC reports in its guide to insurgencies in the Philippines that the European Union and US government have designated the NPA as a terrorist organization with an estimated 10,000 members.

On Friday, a court in The Hague ordered Sison to be detained for up to two weeks, one day after activists protested in Amsterdam against his arrest, Reuters reported. Judges said they were concerned that Sison, who has lived in the Netherlands since 1987, might attempt to flee during the pretrial investigation.

The Philippine Inquirer reported Monday that Army units discovered two recently abandoned camps run by the New People's Army. A Philippine Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, said that 100 NPA rebels had surrendered separately at another location and added that the rebels were struggling to regroup. Another Army spokesman said the arrest of Sison was a factor in the seizure of the camps.

Capt. Carlo Ferrer, spokesperson of the Army's 2ID, said the arrest of Sison prompted rebels to abandon their camps. He said the "dwindling support from the people" as well as the "relentless pursuit by government forces" combined with Sison's arrest to demoralize rebel troops.

In Manila, the Associated Press reported last Thursday, around 100 left-wing protesters were prevented from marching on the Dutch Embassy. Police used truncheons and shields to beat back the protesters, who called on Dutch authorities to release Sison. They accused the Philippine and Dutch governments of trying to sabotage efforts to restart frozen peace talks with the CPP to end the insurgency.

The activists demanded Sison's immediate release from jail in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, chanting "Arrest Gloria, not Joma," referring to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sison's nickname.
"The Arroyo government is sorely mistaken when it thinks that it can intimidate the people's movement for national liberation and democracy," said Carol Araullo, chairwoman of the left-wing group Bayan. "The whole world is seeing the insincerity of the Philippine government in pursuing the peace negotiations."

ABS-CBN News posted last week on its website excerpts from an interview with Sison conducted in the Netherlands before his arrest. Sison's replies are in a mixture of English and Tagalog, the dominant Philippine language. He blames the Philippine government for the poverty that drives people to take up arms and cites land reform as a key demand.

"If I were President of the Philippines and there is the NPA on the other side, I will just make a genuine move towards land reform. There will be no more basis for recruiting fighters for the NPA and I think the NPA will like me if I distribute land for free. I break up the big land holdings. You know, you don't have to be a communist or Maoist to do land reform," Sison said in an exclusive interview before his arrest on Tuesday.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros takes aim at left-wing sympathizers of Sison who call the murder charges "politically motivated." He criticizes party-list lawmakers linked to the CPP for condoning the murder of communist cadre Romulo Kintanar, one of the two men whose death Sison allegedly ordered. Their silence on this killing, argues Mr. de Quiros, has hurt their credibility in pressuring the Philippine government to investigate a series of extrajudicial killings of left-wing activists.

The only thing the marchers are going to accomplish by their protest, or protestations, is to subvert their own cause. The reason they've been unable to get a flood of sympathy to tumble their way over the horrific, and truly alarming, massacre of activists in recent years is also that they themselves have made it the hardest thing in the world. Not least by the spectacle of party-list representatives toasting the assassination of a former comrade, who was Kintanar. That was a truly ugly image… As one reader put it, serves them right. His argument might have been thoroughly dimwitted—nothing can, or may, ever justify the massacre of political activists (and journalists)—but his anger would have found more than faint echoes in many hearts and minds.

US-trained Philippine Army units are also fighting the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group, and splinter factions of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front in the southern Philippines.

Asia Times reports that recent clashes on Jolo, an island southwest of Mindanao, have displaced thousands of civilians and raised concerns over the government's commitment to peace talks with separatist leaders. Critics have accused President Gloria Arroyo of diverting attention from her political setbacks by intensifying the conflict in Mindanao.

On Aug. 24, President Arroyo ordered security forces to end all armed insurgencies within three years, the Hong Kong Standard reported. Arroyo, whose term ends in 2010, said the military must use "hard and soft power" to defeat insurgents, including Communist rebels, Muslim separatists, and terrorist organizations.

"If we are to become a first world country, we have to put a stop to their ideological nonsense and their acts once and for all," she told a peace and security assembly in central Bohol province. "I have a specified timeline - in three years - to end armed rebellion."

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Monday that the military buildup continues on Basilan Island, where 14 marines died in July in an ambush. The attack was blamed on the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is engaged in peace talks with authorities. The marines had been sent to Basilan in search of a kidnapped Italian priest, held by the Abu Sayyaf, who was eventually released unharmed.

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