Philippine rebels seize arms and take hostages

By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
Published: August 23, 2006

MANILA — Communist guerrillas intensified their warfare against the Philippine government in two incidents Wednesday, raiding a military outpost and briefly holding dozens of schoolchildren hostage as they fled from pursuing soldiers, officials said.

Rigoberto Sanchez, a spokesman for the communist rebels, denied by telephone from Mindanao that any hostages had been taken. It was more likely, Sanchez said, that the rebels had simply passed through the village.

But Sanchez also added that the incidents were part of the rebels’ intensified warfare against the government in response to military abuses against civilians and political advocates.

“This fascist regime should expect more engagement from us,” Sanchez said. “We intend to punish this regime for its fascist assaults on the people.”

Officials in Mindanao said some 20 rebels had swooped down on a schoolyard in Buayan, a village in Zamboanga Sibugay Province, as they sought to elude the military.

Extreme poverty has helped the guerrillas gain support in that province over the years.

The rebels gathered residents, asked for food and medicine, and lectured villagers on communism, Agence France-Presse reported. They released the hostages after almost two hours, after learning that soldiers were approaching the village. The hostages were unharmed.

Also on Wednesday, in the southern region of Mindanao, the New People’s Army, a Maoist group, raided a military outpost, killing an army officer and seizing more than 29 rifles.

Some 50 rebels attacked the military outpost, in a town in Bukidnon Province, according to the army. Several rebels were reportedly wounded in the incident.

In March, the Communist Party of the Philippines released a directive to the New People’s Army, its armed wing, to improve its recruitment, seize more weapons from the national army and continue its offensives, which have been increasing in frequency over the past five years, and on a nationwide scale.

The guerrillas claim that they are present in 70 of the country’s 79 provinces, providing an “alternative government” to Filipinos.

But they have been accused of extorting money from individuals and businesses to finance their activities. The government has also charged the rebels’ presence with stunting economic growth in the countryside.

Two months ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the military to intensify its campaign against the New People’s Army, which has about 7,000 recruits.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government have sputtered since 1986. Recently, rebels have said that they would not negotiate with the government as long as Arroyo, who is facing charges of election fraud and was nearly deposed by a popular uprising, is in power.

The rebels have also demanded that their group be removed from the list of terrorist organizations maintained by the United States and the European Union.

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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