Maoists face terror label

The Philippine judiciary has moved to formally label the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorist organisations, in a further blow to the stalled peace negotiations. 

A Manila regional court petitioned the Department of Justice, citing murders and internal purges of alleged military spies in one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.

The United States since the early 2000s has listed the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf and the New People’s Army as terror organisations.

President Rodrigo Duterte resumed peace talks with the communists in 2016, freed some communist leaders from jail and appointed three left-wing activists to his cabinet. But the rapprochement ended amid continuing rebel assaults on troops and police.

Duterte cancelled Norwegian-organised talks last year and signed an order declaring the organisations as terrorist groups in a prelude to the formal legal moves this week.

Duterte this week is also set to host a dinner for a group of former New People’s Army members who surrendered. Many of the former rebels had not visited Manila before and were given a tour of parks and shopping centres.

State prosecutor Peter Ong said the rebels only entered talks in a bid to grab power.

“Their main purpose is to mobilise all their forces in preparation for the ‘people’s war’ aimed at overthrowing the duly constituted authorities,” according to the justice department petition. It said the communists wanted to enforce “a totalitarian regime”.

Human rights activists condemned Duterte last week for saying that his soldiers should shoot female communist rebels in the genitals to render them “useless”. Duterte has offered bounties for insurgents and suggested they could be decapitated.

“No need to bring me the body. Bring me the head, put it in a Styrofoam, show it to me,” the tough-talking former Davao mayor said.

He did admit that he was in talks with Norwegian peace breakers to explore the possibility of resuming talks.

“I have to consult my military people. Why? They’re the ones being killed, not me,” Duterte said.

The communist insurgency has lasted for almost 50 years and is blamed for about 40,000 deaths. It has stunted economic development through attacks on mines, plantations, public infrastructure projects and army and police outposts in deprived rural areas. The armed forces estimate that there are still about 3,700 active Maoists combatants in the field.

The underfunded Philippines military is overstretched. Picture credit: Archive Defence