MANILA - Communist rebels will fight President Rodrigo Duterte "single-mindedly and without hesitation" if the government brands them as terrorists, their exiled leader Jose Maria Sison warned Monday.
The Department of Justice last week asked a local court sought to declare 600 individuals as "terrorists". The petition included Sison and fellow leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).
The move was an apparent implementation of President Rodrigo Duterte's Proclamation No. 374, which tagged the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization.
"If king Duterte is determined to destroy the revolutionary movement as he has announced, then [there is] no choice for the revolutionary movement but to fight him single-mindedly, no more hesitation," the Netherlands-based Sison said in an interview with ANC.
Sison accused Duterte, his former student, of attempting to make the CPP-NPA a "scapegoat" so that he can expand martial law from Mindanao to all of the country.
This, he said, will pave the way for the shift to a federal system of government that will install Duterte as "a highly centralized presidential power, a dictator lording over his fellow regional tyrants."
'YOU'RE NO MARCOS'
Sison belittled Duterte's threats to destroy the communist movement, saying the president's moves were no match to the tactics used by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
"Duterte is overreaching. I know his capabilities, he is not a Marcos," the communist leader said.
"Si Duterte, walang-wala kay Marcos sa mga taktikang pananakot at kasabay niyan, panlilinlang. Sisiw si Duterte," he added.
Rebels are nonetheless ready to return to negotiations to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency if Duterte withdraws his threats, said Sison.
Since taking office in July 2016, Duterte freed some communist leaders and put leftists in his cabinet, to show his commitment to finding a permanent solution to a 5-decade conflict.
But he abandoned the process in November, after what he called repeated attacks by the NPA during talks.
Duterte has been regularly venting his fury at the Maoists and considers them as much of a security threat as the domestic Islamist militant groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.