MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday lauded the government's controversial anti-insurgency task force for "empowering our kababayans who have been used by the communists," particularly in the countryside where influence of Maoist insurgents remain robust.
"With the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) we have made strides in addressing the root causes of this [armed] conflict," Duterte said.
Duterte admitted NTF-ELCAC was a "deviation" from the "traditional military approach in dealing with matters of national security."
The President cited the Barangay Development Program, under which villages cleared of "communist influence" were given P20 million for various projects.
"In our continuous efforts to build safe and conflict-resilient barangays, we have worked towards the sustainable rehabilitation and development of communities where communists used to operate... We invested farm to market roads, school building, water, sanitations, and health stations, and livelihood," Duterte said.
The President likewise claimed "17,000 former communist rebels have surrendered and returned to the folds of the law" due government intervention.
"With the support of our local government units, I am confident that support for the communist movement will continue to erode in the next 2 months," he said.
The President also commended the police and military for "destroying" 15 alleged communist fronts, which he did not identify.
"I'd like to credit police and military for destroying so many communist fronts. I think they have destroyed more than 15 apparatus or the fronts of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)."
But in a series of tweets, CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena disputed Duterte's claims.
"Ang sinabi ni Duterte na 17,000 nag-surrender ay pawang mga sibilyan na pinwersa ng military. Marami sa kanila, lumalapit ngayon sa NPA (New People's Army) para humingi ng tulong na magtanggol sa kanilang sarili," Valbuena said.
He also denied their armed wing was dwindling in numbers.
"Fifteen guerrilla fronts dismantled? Dream on, Duterte. Si Gen. Hermogenes Esperon ng NTF-ELCAC nagsabi, mahigit daw 4,000 noong June ang NPA mula 3,700 noong December."
UNNAMED COLONEL 'SUPPLIED' ARMS TO NPAs
Meanwhile, Duterte lambasted an "idiot" policeman he accused of supplying arms to the NPA fighters.
He claimed he saw the arms before when he went up to the mountains along with now Sen. Bong Go.
"They were there with so many arms that I think somebody, an idiot here in the Philippines supplied... This policeman I think is still there. Colonel," Duterte said, without identifying the alleged police officer.
Duterte said the cop and his or her cohorts smuggled weapons that are now in the hands of the communists.
"I'd like to ask Congress, especially Sen. Bato [dela Rosa], kindly think, because we have identified the person who imported the 8947 into the country on the pretext of using it in the security for business establishments. Maraming sundalong namatay dahil sa mga armas na pinasok nila dito sa Pilipinas."
"So my orders to you if u see them walking around kindly shoot them dead," Duterte told Dela Rosa.