MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte should formalize his decision to tag communist rebels as "terrorists" and sustain an all-out war against them, said a former national security adviser, who warned that the group has "increased its potential to take over the country."
Once considered as a terrorist organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, will be subject to the Philippines' strict anti-terrorism law, former Secretary Norberto Gonzales, told ABS-CBN News.
"When you declare that they are a terrorist organization, then the dealings with them will be very different and defined," he said. "Huli lahat yan. (All of them will be arrested.)"
As defense secretary and later national security adviser under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Gonzales took a hard line against the CPP and the NPA.
Peace talks collapsed after the group was included in the list of terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union.
"Talaga namang terrorist sila e (They are really terrorists)," Gonzales said.
A legal consultant for the rebels on Monday hit back at Gonzales saying he "wasted" several years to negotiate peace with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
"He is just being consistent with his worn-out Cold War militarist quick fixes and rabid anti-communist rantings and biases," lawyer Edre Olalia told ABS-CBN News.
"He was instrumental in sabotaging the peace talks during his heyday and demonizing liberation fighters."
Gonzales said peace talks should resume but under the United Nations' "disarmament, demobilization and reintegration" framework that would require the rebels to give up their arms.
Until Duterte terminated the talks, negotiators were tackling a proposed agreement addressing the roots of the armed struggle such as land reform and national industrialization.
An agreement on social and economic reforms will lead to an agreement on political and constitutional reforms. The last phase would be an agreement on the end hostilities and disposition of forces.
Gonzales said Duterte could still change his mind and resume formal talks despite the President's scathing criticism of the rebels lately.
"We don't even know whether he wants to defeat the communist rebellion or not because he has not dismissed the major communists in his Cabinet," Gonzales said.
Duterte is set to meet with four Cabinet members nominated by the Left on Feb. 20 to discuss the termination of peace talks.