MANILA - The New People's Army (NPA) "took advantage" of the peace process to recruit more members in the countrysides, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
The "surge in recruitment" happened after President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Reds during his first State of the Nation Address, he said.
"That was proven in Davao Oriental. We got a lot of texts from tribal leaders saying, 'Iniipon kami in the guise of talking about the peace process but yun pala, mga NPA kaharap nila, hindi military,'" Lorenzana said.
The unilateral ceasefire was withdrawn last month after Duterte slammed the New People's Army (NPA) for allegedly brutally killing some soldiers while the ceasefire was still in effect.
Aside from intensified recruitment efforts, intelligence reports showed that the NPA's firearms also increased from around to 4,000 to around 5,000 during the peace negotiations, which resumed last August 2016.
Lorenzana attributed the increase to the NPA's recent purchases, and stealing of weapons from civilians and slain members of the military.
The defense chief also denied the National Democratic Front's (NDF) claims that the military is "out to sabotage" the peace process, as alleged by former NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni.
"That is very ingenious for them to say that... We are not sabotaging."
Lorenzana said, aside from the NPA's continuous burning of equipment and crimes in far-flung barangays, the "straw that broke the camel's back" was the ambush of military personnel in Isabela.
"To be shot more than 60 times per soldier, that is too much. The President was willing to continue with the ceasefire if not for the incident where soldiers were killed," he said.
Despite the breakdown of talks, Lorenzana said he is still willing to engage in "back channeling" and other methods that will "further peace."