Manila- The lack of funds and the need to deal with multiple internal security threats have led the Philippine government to review plans to counter a resurgent threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA).
Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz said on April 1 that the threat posed byNPA had made it imperative for President Gloria Arroyo to try to strike a swift political settlement with Muslim guerrillas operating in the southern third of the country.
A peace deal from talks with the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), scheduled to start in Kuala Lumpur on April 16 would free up troops and resources to wrest the initiative from the 8,000-member NPA.
“The greatest internal security threat to the country now is the CPP-NPA,” Mr Cruz told a Foreign Correspondents Association press briefing in the Philippine capital.The Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) isNPA's mother organisation.
“If you are able to solve the CPP-NPA threat that will mean a dramatic increase in your economic growth",due to improved agricultural productivity and opening up of insurgency-influenced areas to tourism and foreign investment.
The revised strategy should allow the armed forces to bring the 36-year rebellion under control within six to 10 years, Mr Cruz added.
In another development, President Arroyo said talks withMILF would go ahead as scheduled inKuala Lumpurdespite aUnited States’ proposal to call them off.
Admiral William Fallon, chief of the US Pacific Command, had warnedManilaagainst negotiating withMILF, which is believed to have ties with the Jemaah Islamiah and is known to be tolerant of terrorists inside its controlled territories. But Mrs Arroyo said on April 1: “Our policy is quite clear that we will go hammer and tongs against terrorists. We will not negotiate with terrorists, and we shall negotiate peace only with those who absolutely reject terrorism.”
She said operations against the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiah would continue as the government pursues peace talks with MILF.
The Philippine government maintains thatMILF remains committed to help the government fight terrorism.Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said thatManilahad requestedWashingtonnot to includeMILF on its list of foreign terrorist organisations.
* AFP reviews strategy to meet NPA threat (The Manila Times, April 2)
* MILF not a terror group, says GMA (The Manila Times, April 2)