Communist rebels abducted two soldiers and at least a dozen militiamen and stole firearms from an army base in the southern Philippines on Wednesday.
The rebels kidnapped the hostages during a pre-dawn attack on an army patrol base near Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur province. Military Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, Jr., said that government forces were in the process of tracking town 80 rebels from the New People’s Army, a communist guerrilla organization that has led insurgencies around the country for over half a century.
The current wave of attacks comes as the group prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Communists typically celebrate these milestones with attacks.
The latest attacks are likely to infuriate President Rodrigo Duterte, who recently gave up on Norway-brokered peace talks with the NPA. On Tuesday, he confirmed he would no longer accept NPA rebels who surrender to the government.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to push through with the peace talks,” Duterte said in a speech. “I do not consider them revolutionary. They are just plain bandits and that is the way we should treat them.”
“If the time comes that I get fed up with this, I will no longer accept those who will surrender,” he continued. “No more surrenders because you are a cruel and brutal people.”
Instead, Duterte suggested moving tribal communities, who are the most common victims of the violence, to a secure zone and arming them to help defend themselves.
“I will hamlet them,” Duterte said. “You natives won’t be able to say that you’re being imprisoned. But I will make a secure place for you that will be your territory for the meantime. I will be the one to decide whether you’ll be given arms. No one else will be able to enter. You will be the ones who will guard it.”
After coming to power in 2016, Duterte opened peace talks with the NPA, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, with the aim of bringing an end to the violence that has plagued the country’s impoverished countryside since 1969 in one of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgencies. According to estimates, the violence has led to around 40,000 combatant and civilians deaths, while also undermining the country’s overall security and economic development.
Repeated attacks on military personnel led to a breakdown in talks. Duterte opted instead to wage a brutal campaign against the group as part of his wider security crackdown.
This year, Duterte offered to pay a $500 bounty for every Communist insurgent killed in remarks that were heavily condemned by human rights groups. He has also encouraged government troops to shoot female insurgents in the vagina, a tactic he claims would render the women “useless.”