MANILA - Some 8,000 rebels have surrendered since the government pursued localized peace talks with the communist movement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday, as he touted the effectiveness of this strategy instead of negotiating with the group's exiled leaders.
Lorenzana said of the estimated 8,000, some 1,700 were unarmed “militias.” He added, the party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army, only has an estimated 5,000 armed members but that its unarmed ranks could be as many as 50,000.
He said the surrenders started when government pursued localized peace talks with the rebels, an approach it adopted after the collapse of its negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“It is a nationwide phenomenon. Mukhang kumalat na ang mga balita na ang mga former rebels eh maganda ang trato ng gobyerno sa kanila,” Lorenzana said in a Palace press briefing.
(It seems like news that government treats former rebels well has spread.)
He said rebels who returned to the fold of the law were being given livelihood assistance.
Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte was right in pursuing localized peace talks, adding that exiled communist party leaders such as Jose Maria Sison, who he described as an “armchair general,” no longer has control over forces on the ground.
“They want to internationalize the issue [when] the problem is here in the Philippines… I have more respect for their fighters on the ground,” Lorenzana said.
Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair, has been exiled in the Netherlands for more than three decades.
Duterte’s presidential bid was backed by communists due to his ties with Sison, his former professor, and other local leftist leaders.
But relations soured between the two sides after Duterte accused communist rebels of continuing their attacks against government troops despite the ongoing peace talks.
Negotiations were repeatedly halted under Duterte. Another resumption was scheduled in late June but this was cancelled as the government sought to review all agreements entered into by the communists with past administrations.
In November, Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 formally ending the government’s peace talks with the communists. A month later, he signed Executive Order No. 70 ordering the creation of a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.”
The EO seeks to institutionalize the “whole-of-nation approach in inclusive and sustainable peace” and adopts a national peace framework.