By Vince Angelo C. Ferreras
DEFENSE SECRETARY Delfin N. Lorenzana has admitted that the target of ending the 50-year old communist insurgency this year is not possible, but said the government is aiming to achieve this before President Rodrigo R. Duterte steps down in mid-2022.
“We cannot do it this year dahil napakalaking problema ‘yan (because it’s a very big problem)… Siguro ang (Maybe our) target natin ngayon (now) is the remaining three years of President Duterte’s presidency, kaya siguro nating gawin ‘yun (we can probably do that),” said Mr. Lorenzana in a chance interview with reporters on Tuesday.
The Defense secretary said he is optimistic of reaching the target given the government’s “localized peace talks and the E-CLIP (Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program).”
Mr. Lorenzana also noted that the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been weakening with many of its members returning to the fold of the law.
He said the NPA membership is now “about less than 6,000,” but acknowledged that there are militias nationwide that support the group.
“Yun ang gusto nating kunin din (Those militias are also among those that we want to take in).”
Mr. Lorenzana also reiterated that the Duterte administration remains open to resuming the peace talks with the CPP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
He stressed, however, that the President’s position is that CPP founding leader Jose Maria Sison should return to the Philippines and the talks be held in the country and not continued in Norway, which has been serving as a third party facilitator to the peace process.
Mr. Sison has been living in exile in The Netherlands since 1987.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr., in a separate interview, said the establishment of a national task force would help in combatting communist insurgency.
“We need specially to give flesh dun sa (to the) national task force because (it) includes all agencies,” Mr. Madrigal said, adding that local governments have an important role as leaders at the “ground level.”