Duterte must heed demand to end Oplan Bayanihan and AFP occupation of civilian communities

Today marks the 100th day of the effectivity of the unilateral declaration for an interim ceasefire issued last August 26 by the CPP Central Committee. The declaration was issued to support accelerated peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

The CPP commends all units of the New People’s Army (NPA) for standing by the Party’s unilateral ceasefire declaration and withstanding and forbearing the continuing Oplan Bayanihan armed operations of the AFP within and around NPA guerrilla zones and base areas.

The unilateral ceasefire declarations issued reciprocally by the GRP and the NDFP have persisted only because NPA units have chosen to carry out evasion maneuvers to avoid armed skirmishes with the AFP as well as combat troops of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The CPP condemns the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for bullheadedly continuing to carry out armed hostile actions against the peasant masses and NPA units in the guerrilla zones and revolutionary areas. The AFP has maliciously taken advantage of the NPA ceasefire to gain military and political advantage on the ground. For the past three months, the AFP has practically observed no ceasefire.

Against the spirit of the reciprocal ceasefire declarations, the AFP leadership itself ordered its troops to continue with Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency operations. When confronted by people, its operating troops even make such claims as “only the NPA has a ceasefire.”

The CPP is utterly dismayed at the failure of GRP President Rodrigo Duterte to rein in the war dogs of the AFP. It is quite apparent that the order made by Duterte last August as commander-in-chief to the AFP to “be friendly with the revolutionary government” and with the CPP-NPA is an empty one considering that not a single area command of the AFP respected nor implemented this policy. On the contrary, the AFP continues to regard the CPP-NPA with extreme hostility.

During the entire course of the unilateral ceasefire, the AFP has deployed armed units and maintained armed presence in centers of civilian communities in violation of the CARHRIHL and international protocols which protect the welfare of civilians in times of war.

Based on partial reports, at least 470 barangays have been affected by Oplan Bayanihan armed operations since August 26. Once the full report is completed, the number is expected to reach more than 800. Close to a half a million people in 43 provinces and 146 towns have been subjected or exposed to various forms of AFP abuses in just over three months.

The AFP deceptively describes their combat and psychological operations as “peace and development”, “civil-military operations”, “medical missions”, “visitations”, “community outreach”, “anti-drug campaign” and so on. They try to fool the people by claiming their fully-armed combatants are engaged in “non-combat operations.”

They usurp the functions of civilian agencies by organizing “medical and dental missions”, “literacy patrols”, “gift giving” and other sanctimonious activities to masquerade their armed counter-insurgency aims. They force barangay councilmen to “request” their presence and “protection” or compel them to sign blank papers.

Armed troops of the AFP occupy barangay halls, day care centers, health centers, gyms, elementary schools as well as civilian residences. They do not spare even such sacrosanct places as the Dap-ay reserved for community elders in the Cordilleras. In Mindoro, they have set up military detachments within the Mangyan villages itself. AFP troops have subjected relief volunteers and para-teachers to threats and harassments.

Soldiers armed to the teeth comb villages and village outskirts, strut around communities and ransack homes. They employ the worst forms of coercion and intimidation in the hope of disorganizing the people and destroying their determination to stand and defend their rights.

Armed combat troops of the AFP taunt residents and their peasant leaders and activists, torment families of NPA Red fighters and suspected sympathizers and subject residents to repeated interrogations in the guise of census-taking. They arbitrarily accost people, limit the people’s movements, impose food blockades, force people to join in military-organized meetings or force themselves on community meetings and recruit spies and paramilitaries. Those who refuse to join the CAFGU or oppose the AFP’s recruitment campaign are automatically suspected of being supporters of the NPA and subjected to harassment.

Far from keeping the peace, armed troops of the AFP disturb the villagers with noisy drinking sessions and gambling. They encourage and cause the proliferation of pornography and drugs especially among the youth. They subject women to sexual harassment and abuse.

Continuing Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency operations undermine the reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declarations. By deploying fully-armed units to the very heart of the NPA guerrilla zones and guerrilla bases, the AFP leadership wants its units to engage the NPA in armed skirmishes to force the ceasefire to an end. They know fully well that the NPA can only evade and counter-maneuver so much.

The AFP’s forward troop deployments are preparations for an offensive in a vain attempt to crush the NPA and the wide and deep support it enjoys among the peasant masses.

The AFP has been strategically deploying its troops over the past several weeks concentrating in Eastern Mindanao. In the Southern Mindanao Region, the AFP recalled two battalions earlier deployed to the Sulu province and added two more. In North Central Mindanao Region, the AFP’s 4th ID deployed five battalions to cover 78 barangays in Butuan, Gingoog, Malaybalay and Valencia and the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon. In Northeast Mindanao, Army soldiers and police combatants have occupied 86 barangays in 22 municipalities.

It has also deployed troops in the Southern Tagalog Region where at least 70 barangays have been occupied by the military and police in the course of the ceasefire period.

In the face of the AFP’s continuing Oplan Bayanihan armed hostile operations, the CPP and NPA have exhibited flexibility in order to sustain the ceasefire declarations. However, there can only be limited tolerance for continuing armed hostilities by the AFP. GRP President Duterte must listen to the outcry to put an end to the GRP’s Oplan Bayanihan.

In the spirit of peace negotiations and extending the unilateral ceasefire declarations, the CPP calls on GRP President Duterte to immediately order the AFP to withdraw its armed combatants from the guerrilla zones and areas under the sway of the revolutionary government.

He must order an end to the Oplan Bayanihan war of suppression and rescind his earlier declaration that he will not pull out his troops from the guerrilla zones.

He must cast away his illusion that the GRP has exclusive dominion over the entire Philippines. The fact is, in significant parts of the country, there exists two governments which are at war with each other: the GRP and the people’s democratic government which the NDFP represents. By continuing to forward deploy his abusive troops and occupy peasant communities, he is pressing on the civil war and proving himself no different from the warfreak Aquino and Arroyo regimes neither of which were interested in the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.

If he presses on with the AFP’s deployment in the guerrilla zones and occupation of communities, Duterte would be virtually setting the stage for widespread armed clashes with the New People’s Army as Red fighters will be forced to engage in active defense and defend the people against abuses by the forward-deployed combat troops of the AFP. He will only have himself to blame if this forces the hand of the CPP to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declaration.

The CPP urges GRP President Duterte to respond positively over the coming days to the demands of the people to end Oplan Bayanihan. If he does so, and furthermore, fulfills his promise to release political prisoners en masse through a presidential amnesty proclamation, he would secure a guarantee that the CPP will extend its unilateral ceasefire declaration and encourage the revolutionary forces into forging a bilateral ceasefire in order to boost accelerated negotiations to attain a just and lasting peace.

Duterte must heed demand to end Oplan Bayanihan and AFP occupation of civilian communities