By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (AA) – A leftist group in the Philippines has criticized the United States’ inclusion of communist rebels on a terror list as an attempt to “undermine” the possible resumption of their peace talks with the incoming government of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
Renato Reyes Jr., Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general, said in a statement Saturday, “the U.S. once again hopes to use the terrorist listing as a form of intervention in an internal matter.”
The U.S. Department of State’s report for 2015 was published earlier this week, with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA) included among its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Its publication comes after Duterte, who is set to be inaugurated as president June 30, made overtures toward the CPP and both sides expressed willingness to meet in Norway in coming weeks for preparatory meetings aimed at paving the way for formal peace talks.
In Saturday’s statement, cited by the InterAksyon news website, Reyes accused the U.S. of intending to “cast a cloud of doubt even before the talks begin”.
“The fact that cabinet posts were even offered by incoming President Duterte to the CPP belies the ‘terrorist’ claims of the U.S.,” he insisted. “Any form of U.S. intervention in the peace talks should be exposed and opposed by the Filipino people who have long sought a just and lasting peace.”
After winning the May 9 election by a landslide, Duterte offered the CPP posts in his cabinet, invited their founder Jose Maria Sison to return to the Philippines, and said he would consider releasing their colleagues.
Duterte has nominated candidates endorsed by the insurgency’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), to his cabinet and other positions. Among them are Rafael Mariano for the post of agrarian reform secretary and Judy Taguiwalo for chief of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Sison -- Duterte’s former professor at a Manila university who has been in exile in Netherlands since the failure of 1987 peace talks -- has indicated that he could return to the Philippines in July.
He has, however, underlined rebel demands that their more than 500 jailed comrades be freed, democratic reforms be implemented for national industrialization and land reform, and that U.S. military forces be removed from Philippine territory.
In its 2015 report, the U.S. Department of State described the rebels as “primarily a rural-based guerrilla group” with “an active urban infrastructure to support its terrorist activities and, at times, uses city-based assassination squads”.
It accused the CPP/NPA of targeting “Philippine security forces, government officials, local infrastructure, and businesses that refuse to pay extortion, or ‘revolutionary taxes’” and having “a history of attacking U.S. interests in the Philippines”.
Peace negotiations with the CPP-NDFP collapsed in 2004 after the communists withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of Sison and the NPA on the U.S. terrorist list.
In 2013, negotiations again failed because outgoing President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels' demand to release detained comrades -- accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which -- according to the military -- has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.