By Luis Liwanag
A spokesman and senior leader of communist guerrillas in the Philippines was arrested while seeking treatment at a hospital in a Manila suburb, police said Tuesday.
Jaime Padilla, believed to be in his 60s, had appeared at recent news conferences as a spokesman for the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He was taken into custody with three other suspected rebels who were guarding him at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City, police said.
“He has hypertension complicated by his advanced age,” Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, chief of the police in metropolitan Manila, told reporters, referring to Padilla. “He is wanted for four counts of murder.”
Sinas said police officers sought permission from Padilla’s doctor before placing him under arrest. He said the three suspects arrested with Padilla would be charged with harboring a wanted person.
In July, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a nationwide crackdown against communist rebels after four policemen were killed in a July 18 ambush in central Negros Oriental province that authorities blamed on the insurgents.
The directive resulted in the arrest of Esterlita Suaybaguio, 59, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The NDF is the political front of the rebels.
Two more communist consultants, Winona Birondo, 60, and her husband, Alexander Birondo, 67, were arrested in July. The three were peace-panel members of the NDF.
The NPA, in a statement Tuesday, confirmed the arrest, and condemned the military and police for launching a joint operation to capture Padilla. It said the guerilla leader – who was interviewed by reporters in recent years in a rebel camp in the jungles southeast of the Philippine capital – was suffering from a “heart condition” and was undergoing a series of medical tests at the hospital.
“His condition is sensitive and he needs urgent medical attention for his heart ailment,” the statement said.
At least 40,000 people have been killed since the NPA began waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency in the 1960s. Most of the clashes have taken place in remote villages and mountainous areas, where authorities say less than 4,000 guerillas operate.
In 2016, President Duterte, a self-described leftist, opened peace talks with the CPP and released dozens of detained insurgent leaders as a goodwill measure.
The relationship turned sour months later and Duterte terminated the peace negotiations after he accused the rebels of continuing their attacks against government forces in remote areas of the country.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City contributed to this report.