MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it has refrained calling the New People's Army (NPA) as a "communist terrorist" organization in deference to the ongoing efforts to revive peace talks with the communist-led National Democratic Front.
"At this time, the most important thing is for the peace talks to move forward, move on. This is part of our confidence-building," AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta told a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.
Mabanta said they would just refer to the communists as “CNN,” the acronym Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
"CNN is a very new acronym… We've started not to use communist terrorists because we would certainly like that these talks move forward and attain what has been set for (by the national leadership) as its objectives," said Mabanta.
Government officials and NDF representatives are set to meet in Oslo, Norway on Friday in preparation for the resumption of the formal talks from February 19 to February 25.
The formal talks bogged down in 2004 after US included the CPP and the NPA in its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Late last year, we decided not to use terrorist (to describe the NPA)," said Mabanta.
When asked if the AFP would go as far as exerting weight to delist the CPP and the NPA from the US and European Union’s lists of foreign terrorist organizations, Mabanta said this would depend on how the peace negotiations go.
Pressed if the CPP and the NPA are engaged in terrorist activities, Mabanta said: "They are involved in extortion and they are involved in limited execution (of people). I don't want to define it as that (terrorist activities) because there are plenty of factors that will determine if it is a terrorist act and I'm not in a position to (answer that)."
He refused to comment when asked if there is still a basis for US and EU to retain the foreign terrorist tag on the CPP and the NPA
Nevertheless, Mabanta said the AFP has relations with the US and EU. "We continue to have relations with them and we give inputs for them to come up with these pronouncements," he said.
Mabanta sought to clarify figures released by the AFP public affairs office nearly 2 weeks ago that pegged the strength of the NPA down to just 4,111 as of end-2010 from 4,702 as of end- 2009.
His office said its figures came from the office of the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations.
Quoting figures from the office of AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence, Mabanta said the current strength of the NPA is 4,600 but maintained that this is still "much much better" than the rebels’ previous estimated strength of about 4,700.
"We'll stick to the 4,600 figure… which the most accurate," he said, adding that the figure was culled from intelligence units on the ground.
Mabanta also announced that the primary role in the conduct of internal security operations (ISO) in at least 15 provinces is due to be turned over to police and local government units this year.
"If I'm not mistaken, there are 15 provinces that are programmed to be handed over to the DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government]. It’s already on the planning board. I'm talking about basically the whole of Central Luzon, the whole of Region I and most of Region II,” he said.
The military has been handing over the lead role in the internal security operations to local government units as the rebels’ presence in the part of the country decline.