Communist rebel fighters have mustered openly in Davao today (December 26) and expressed their continuing support for President Duterte.
About 300 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) massed to celebrate the 48th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The show of force in a rebel “camp” in the Paquibato District of the city was witnessed by some 3,000 members and supporters of the CPP.
The rebels, members of the North Central Mindanao Regional Command, called their anniversary celebration “A rebel zone in a city”, with the theme “People’s War, People’s Peace.”
In August, the rebels declared a ceasefire as a sign of “good faith” as its political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), opened peace negotiations with the Duterte administration.
Luis Jalandoni, an adviser to the rebel panel in the talks, spoke of his support for the president. “We are proud of him for standing up as the first Philippine president against US imperialism,” he said.
He added that if the US and other “anti-people forces” plotted to oust him, Duterte could rely on the communist guerrillas to offer support. “The NDF will be a reliable ally to him,” he said.
It is hoped that any agreement would bring to an end what is currently Asia’s longest armed insurgency.
However, hopes of a bilateral ceasefire were set back after the NDF accused the government of failing in its promise to release 434 political prisoners by the end of the year.
Furthermore, the announcement of a Christmas truce last week, when the president urged fighters to “go down from the mountains” was soon followed by an attack on a public bus. The torching of the vehicle near Koronadal City was the sixth such incident since mid November.
Now the CPP has said that the rebels are ready to sign a ceasefire deal – but warned that it would only take full effect once all its prisoners were released.
The communist movement supported Duterte’s bid for the presidency, after he struck an alliance with the rebels during his time as mayor of Davao City.
Now, at least three activists identified with the CPP have roles in Duterte’s cabinet.
However, their allegiance to the president is not entirely unconditional. Asked about speculation that the president could be ousted, NPA leader Alvin Luque said: “The revolutionary forces will not stake their lives for one man. The New People’s Army will only stake their lives for the people, not some individual who could just be acting like as a leftist.”
Despite this apparently lukewarm support, communist leaders continue to be supportive of Duterte’s policies with relation to the USA.
Concha Araneta Bocala, an NDF “peace consultant” who attended today’s celebrations in Davao, said that while the people wanted peace, it had to involve land form, wage increases and the nationalisation of key industries.
“Land reform is the foremost need of the farmers,” she said.
Another NDF consultant, Alfredo “Ka Paris” Mapano, also pledged his support to Duterte, due of his stand against “foreign imperialism” and because the president is a self-proclaimed “leftist and socialist”.
“However,” he added, “we will still criticise the administration, especially on specific issues such as the Marcos burial and extra-judicial killings because of the war on drugs.”
The peace talks will resume in Oslo, Norway, early next year.