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Duterte labels Communists as terrorists, heightening tension

Philippine president aims to cut off financing for long-running insurgency

Members of affiliated groups of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and underground revolutionary organizations under the banner of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Metro Manila in March. (Sipa via AP Images)

MANILA--President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday classified the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing as a terrorist organization in a move that could trigger fresh armed clashes. Peace talks were terminated in November.

Duterte has signed a "proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army as a designated terrorist organization," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

The move will criminalize the financing of the CPP and the NPA, Roque added. Duterte has previously accused them of extorting money from businesses under the guise of collecting "revolutionary taxes."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a military uniform, gestures as he delivers a speech in Bulacan province, north of Manila on Nov. 24.   © Reuters

After Duterte's declaration the Armed Forces of the Philippine said the "proclamation clearly classifies and labels the group for what they really are."

Army spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla added: "We can now address without any hesitation, and with all the means and resources available to us, the increasing criminal and economic sabotage activities of these terrorists."

Duterte's move follows the signing of Proclamation No. 360 on Nov. 23, officially terminating peace talks with the CPP and its affiliate groups. Roque said the CPP, "failed to show their sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations."

The U.S. classified the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization in 2002. However, the Philippine government, hoping to salvage a peace deal, has not previously used such a label.

The Maoist-inspired rebellion, founded by academic Jose Maria Sison, began in the late 1960s. It has become one of the longest running insurgencies in the region, claiming tens of thousands of lives. However, the CPP's membership has dipped to around 4,000 from more than 20,000 in the 1980s.

Peace talks between the rebels and past administrations have been erratic.

A soldier stands guard beside the coffin of Second Lieutenant Miguel Victor Alejo, who according to authorities was killed by members of rebel group New People's Army (NPA), inside a funeral home in Davao city in February.   © Reuters

However, hopes surged when Duterte, who once described himself as a socialist and is a former student of Sison, came to power in 2016. Duterte ordered the release of top communist advisers from jail, and accepted nominees from the CPP as part of his cabinet.

Peace talks collapsed, however, amid continued clashes between the military and the rebels -- despite a ceasefire. The two sides have accused each other of violating a truce.

On Dec. 4 the military said two soldiers and four rebels had been killed in an encounter in the southern Philippines on Dec. 3. In the previous week, 15 rebels were killed by the military in a clash in southern Luzon, the island in which the capital is located.

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