By Jojo Riñoza and Froilan Gallardo
President Rodrigo Duterte is alleging that communist insurgents waging a decades-old insurgency have gained a foothold in the Philippine Congress through representation by leftist groups.
Several left-leaning organizations are fronts for the rebels waging a decades-old insurgency and have gained seats in the House of Representatives, the Philippine leader said during his weekly “talk to the nation” address late Tuesday.
“You know, it is true. They have infiltrated Congress. No doubt about it. They have used the party-list [system in the electoral process],” Duterte said, according to a transcript released to the press Wednesday.
“The problem here is that they are supporting [the communist movement] or acting as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” he said.
Duterte named at least five organizations that have won congressional seats as sector representatives, including the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), the women’s rights groups Gabriela, and the nationalist group Bayan Muna.
Carlos Zarate, who represents Bayan Muna in Congress, hit back at the president, saying Duterte had presented no credible evidence against the nationalist bloc, “except for innuendo and hearsay coming from perjured witnesses.”
“The real intent of this attack is to immobilize us,” he said.
Zarate also accused the president, who will leave office when his term expires after the May general election, of a using a “desperate” ploy to divide the political opposition that supports Vice President Leni Robredo, one of the presidential candidates vying to replace Duterte.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has been waging a Maoist rebellion against Manila since 1969. The New People’s Army, the party’s military wing, has about 5,000 fighters nationwide, down from at least 20,000 at its peak in the 1980s.
Duterte’s comments coincided with the 53rd anniversary of the NPA on Tuesday, when the communists called on their guerrillas to intensify their campaign against the government.
The CPP alleged that Duterte’s anti-insurgency campaign had failed and he now faces the real threat of being investigated for the thousands of killings carried out by the police in the name of his administration’s war on illegal drugs.
“Whatever the outcome of the May elections, the Filipino people must remain keenly aware that they will have to continue to push ahead with their struggle to take back their fundamental freedoms and rights and push for their democratic aspirations,” the CPP said in a statement Tuesday.
“They will have to contend with and resist the counterinsurgency state and fight to break the military’s stronghold of the entire government and demand an end to the reign of impunity and tyranny,” it said.
Duterte, a self-described leftist, was once a university student of Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the communist movement.
When Duterte took power in 2016, one of his first acts was to name leftist personalities in the cabinet and invite the insurgents to peace talks. But that did not last long, and both sides soon accused each other of violence despite the peace overtures. In 2017, Duterte canceled the negotiations.