MANILA, Philippines — The military can very well fight and defeat the communist New People’s Army (NPA) without the help of the United States, the military’s spokesperson said Thursday.
“Strategically, yes. Strategically (we can beat them),” Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, information chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told reporters when asked whether the AFP could crush the NPA without US assistance.
Bacarro said the military was even ahead of its deadline to defeat the rebels by 2010.
He was reacting to the statement of the US Pacific Command chief, Adm. Timothy Keating, that Washington was willing to help Manila fight the NPA.
Bacarro said it was up to the AFP leadership to respond to Keating’s statement.
At a briefing, Bacarro said he was not in a position to respond whether the country would take up the offer of Keating as this was a policy issue.
Here on a five-day visit, Keating the other day said the United States would continue to support the Philippines in its fight against Islamic militants — the Abu Sayyaf and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah.
The US Pacific Command chief said the United States wouldn’t mind should the Philippines ask for its help in fighting other organizations designated by both countries as terrorist.
Keating was in the country for the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board meetings with the AFP chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
In Malacañang, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Thursday discussed regional security with Keating during his courtesy call.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Ms Arroyo assured Keating of cooperation not only by the Philippines but also on a multilateral basis with Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Ms Arroyo is this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Bunye said Ms Arroyo thanked Keating for the US government’s assistance in relief and rescue operations during the recent typhoons.
Ms Arroyo welcomed the presence of the USS Peleleu, which brought US Navy personnel who are undertaking humanitarian missions in typhoon-ravaged areas in the Bicol region.
Human Security Act
Bacarro noted that Keating made the statement about the United States helping Manila fight groups classified as terrorist.
The NPA has yet to be classified as a terrorist group because the Human Security Act will take effect only next month, Bacarro said.
The anti-terror law requires that those deemed by the government to be terrorist undergo a “proscription” process, which Bacarro said was a “tedious” process.
“So it has something to do with policy. It would even be beyond the AFP to comment on the statement made by Admiral Keating,” the AFP information chief said.
Human rights violations
Self-exiled leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its political arm, the National Democratic Front, condemned Keating’s statement.
“Admiral Keating’s statements appear to be coordinated with attempts of the Arroyo regime to use the so-called Human Security Act in trying to intimidate the NDF,” said CPP founder Jose Maria Sison in a statement from the Netherlands.
Sison said “far worse” human rights violations would be committed by government forces should the United States take part in counterinsurgency.
In a separate statement, Fidel Agcaoili, NDF human rights committee chair, called Keating’s statement “interventionist.”
Agcaoili said that despite continuous US military support in the form of the Visiting Forces Agreement and Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), the government had failed to quell the communist insurgency.
The communists have been waging a 37-year-old insurgency.
Their forces are spread throughout most of the country, straining the manpower and supply lines of the 120,000-strong AFP and the 110,000-member Philippine National Police.
Latest estimates by the military show that the NPA has about 7,100 fighters, down by at least 5,000 men from its forces in 2002.
The military reported that at least 850 NPA rebels were either killed or captured last year, including 13 guerrilla front secretaries. About 500 of the rebels were reportedly killed in encounters.
But the rebels belied the military’s figures, claiming that they have the equivalent of 27 battalions or about 13,500 full-time fighters with high-powered rifles, and are backed by “tens of thousands” of militias nationwide.
The CPP also claims the NPA now operates in more than 120 guerrilla fronts.
Bacarro said the military intended to cut the number of NPA members by 1,000 every year starting last year.
“If we reduce them by 1,000 every year, we will be able to reduce them by 2010 to a very inconsequential level that they will not be able to make major attacks,” he said.
Bacarro said the government was not only using military force but was also tapping other agencies to “fast track” the efforts against the NPA.
The CPP spokesperson, Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, said the US military forces had long been directly engaged in unconventional and covert combat operations against the NPA.
“The US military has … provided training, technical assistance, weaponry and intelligence information in the counter-revolutionary war to suppress the armed and unarmed patriotic forces,” Rosal said in a statement.
US forces have been using joint military exercises, terrain and “social mapping,” and humanitarian and disaster-relief operations to increasingly trespass in and familiarize themselves with the areas where the NPA is strong, according to Rosal.
Rosal claimed that the US military carried out intelligence-gathering operations in Bicol and Quezon in late 2004 and Leyte in 2006 using humanitarian missions as cover. With reports from Juliet Labog-Javellana in Manila and Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon