By Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Philippine communist guerrillas announced over the weekend that they would revive their urban hit squads, warning of attacks against groups and officers who they said had committed “crimes against the people.”
The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), said on Saturday that it had standing instructions to carry out such attacks.
“There is a standing order for the New People’s Army to form partisan teams to mete out punishment against enemy units and officers who have committed bloody crimes against the people,” Marco Valbuena, a spokesman for the CPP, said in a statement.
“In due time, the NPA will be able to form more partisan teams who can carry out punitive actions in the cities or close to the cities,” he added.
The NPA’s hit squads, known as Special Partisan Units (Sparus) or “sparrow units” for their swift assassinations in the 1980s, were active during the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
But, unlike in the 1980s, the military is now prepared to defeat such squads, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday.
Additionally, the Anti-Money Laundering Council has moved to freeze the bank deposits and other assets of the communist group, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
The CPP began its rebellion in 1968 and formed the NPA a year later. While the CPP’s armed wing has lost strength in recent years, it remains capable of hit-and-run attacks.
The NPA insurgency, now the longest-running armed uprising in Asia, currently has about 5,000 fighters, down from 20,000 in the 1980s.
In 1989, the NPA killed U.S. Col. James Rowe, a military adviser to the Philippine armed forces based at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Rowe was ambushed by at least two NPA “sparrow” gunmen in suburban Quezon City in northern Manila and was instantly killed. His driver was wounded but survived the attack.
Rowe, a U.S. Army veteran who had spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before he escaped, was the highest ranking U.S. official to be assassinated in the Philippines.
‘Terrorist NPA assassins’
Lorenzana, meanwhile, dared Jose Maria Sison, the exiled, 81-year-old CPP founder who is based in Europe, to follow through on his warning about the attacks.
“It is so easy for Mr. Sison to order, from his safe and comfortable haven in the Netherlands, the return of … armed terrorists he calls partisan units,” Lorenzana said in his statement.
“What Mr. Sison meant by Special Partisan Operation is simply murder by assassination – also, a euphemism for extrajudicial killings.”
The defense secretary also noted that many NPA leaders had surrendered, and said Sison had unrealistic expectations.
“Mr. Sison, you are either hallucinating about your revolution succeeding, or you are merely whistling in the dark while living an abundant and luxurious life abroad,” Lorenzana said.
Additionally, the Philippines has designated the CPP-NPA a “terrorist organization,” which means the government won’t hold any peace talks with them, Lorenzana said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-proclaimed former leftist, was once a student of Sison. Among the president’s first acts upon assuming office in 2016 was the launch of peace talks with the CPP.
He later ended the talks after accusing the communist rebels of being insincere because they had continued to launch attacks amid peace negotiations.
In October, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the NPA had reemerged as a grave internal security threat in the Philippines. Two months later, for the first time in years, the Philippine armed forces announced that it wouldn’t observe a traditional Christmastime truce with the insurgents, amid an uptick in clashes with the group.
Also in December, opposition lawmaker Risa Hontiveros called for an investigation into a spate of killings of civilians, including the slaying of a doctor and her husband, amid a campaign of “red-tagging” or accusing individuals of links to communist rebels.
Jojo Rinoza contributed to this report from Dagupan city, Philippines.