SAN AGUSTIN, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/27 December) — With barely two kilometers and a hill separating a large column of communist rebels and a platoon of government soldiers, Asia’s longest running insurgency celebrated its 42nd founding anniversary before thousands of supporters and barely two months before the expected resumption of the peace negotiation between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Philippine government.
Jorge Madlos aka Ka Oris, NDF-Mindanao spokesperson said the task given to all its guerrilla units of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao is to consolidate and expand their ranks, although he echoed the NDF leadership’s willingness to reopen peace talks with the government.
Madlos’ pronouncement came amid a mutual ceasefire between the NPA and government forces that will last until midnight of January 3, 2011 and as the rebel and government peace panels prepare for the resumption of talks by February.
“We urge strong guerrilla forces to help the weak and the weak to strengthen themselves,” Madlos said in a speech delivered in Filipino.
He said this year’s celebration of the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was the biggest so far in the history of the rebel movement in Mindanao.
The NDF is the political umbrella of the CPP and its military arm, the NPA.
Fully armed NPA regulars freely mixed with supporters whose number exceeded the expected 12,000 figure the NDF earlier projected.
The NPA guerrillas present during the celebration numbered at least 150 with more deployed around the vicinity as sentries.
“We did not come here to exchange fire with soldiers,” the 63-year-old Ka Oris said.
The rebels hosted lunch for them which included more than 20 roasted pigs (as of 7 am, said an aide to Ka Oris) as more food kept coming in by noon.
The rebels also sent two roasted pigs to soldiers and policemen manning checkpoints along the national highway to the surprise of the soldiers.
Ka Oris said the apparent show of force was not meant to taunt the government which agreed to resume peace negotiations with the NDF only last month.
He said the area was chosen because it provided a wide space to accommodate their supporters, a number of whom came from nearby Agusan provinces and the cities of Tandag and Butuan.
Tension mounted early in the morning, however, when soldiers established roadblocks outside Diatagon town in Surigao del Sur and flagged down vehicles transporting the rebel supporters.
At least 18 vans bearing journalists were also blocked by Army soldiers led by 1Lt. Jack Contreras of the 402nd Brigade.
Contreras said they were just checking the passengers of the vehicle but Ka Oris complained over dzRH that the government soldiers were preventing their supporters to the “peace forum” that the NDF organized for the occasion.
After almost one hour of negotiations, however, the soldiers allowed the vehicles to pass through the roadblocks but only after getting the licenses of the vehicles and the names of their drivers.
The site of the CPP’s celebration was in nearby San Agustin town, also in Surigao del Sur.
Ka Oris said the NDF in Mindanao is bracing for the resumption of the peace negotiations with the government even as he said they will continue to expand its forces and launch larger tactical offensives to achieve its goal of reaching a strategic stalemate with the government forces.
The Maoist-inspired guerrilla warfare launched by the CPP-NPA-NDF is said to be in the advanced sub-stage of the strategic defensive phase of its three-stage armed struggle.
Last year, the CPP announced it is positioning itself to be in armed parity with the government in five years.
Ka Oris said one of the requisites to getting to their stalemate target is to accumulate a force of approximately 40,000 fully armed regulars.
The actual strength of the NPA rebels varies according to different estimates.
Both the AFP and the NDF however concede that the unilateral ceasefires declared by both parties are apparently holding.
As of press time, there were no reports of major violations of the Christmas truce.
Declining and spent
Maj. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero, commanding officer of the Eastern Command Armed Forces of the Philippines, however dismissed rebel claims of field successes as a propaganda stunt.
He said they have neutralized several guerrilla fronts of the NPA rebels and that the show of force in Surigao was just a publicity to show that they are still a force to reckon with.
Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commanding officer of the 10th Infantry Division said they have further reduced the NPA strength nationwide from more than 20,000 armed regulars in the late 80s to 8,000 in early 2000.
Now, he said the NPAs are down to 5,000 regulars scattered all over the country.(The author writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)