MOUNT DIWATA, Philippines (AP) — Communist rebels threatened more attacks Sunday despite looming peace talks with the Philippine government, as they marked the insurgency’s 42nd anniversary by defiantly marching with their weapons in public view.
Aside from targeting government forces, New People's Army guerrillas — one of Asia’s most resilient Maoist forces, withstanding decades of military crackdowns — also threatened to step up attacks against mining companies, accusing them of destroying the environment and exploiting workers.
“Despite the peace talks, we will go on with the revolt,” regional rebel spokesman Jorge Madlos told journalists in a farming village at the foothills of the Diwata mountain range in Surigao del Sur province, about 530 miles southeast of Manila.
The government and the rebels have agreed to resume peace talks in February after six years, and chief government negotiator Alexander Padilla sounded optimistic early this week, citing promises by new reformist President Benigno Aquino III to address rebel concerns.
Amid a Christmas cease-fire, about 80 young guerrillas marched in public through this rice-growing village, brandishing M16 assault rifles, grenade launchers and other weapons to celebrate the Dec. 26, 1968, founding of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines.
On a makeshift wooden stage festooned with a huge red cloth emblazoned with the hammer and sickle communist symbol, rebels sang nationalist songs, and guerrilla speakers revved up the more than 2,000 farmers, villagers and sympathizers. The hilly village is tucked about a mile away from a main road, where army troops stood guard in an outpost and listed the names of villagers streaming in to attend the ceremony.
“It’s scary at first, but later you gain confidence when you think that you’re fighting for the people,” said Johnny Buyo, a 19-year-old who joined the guerrilla movement six months ago.
An M16 rifle slung on his tiny frame, Mr. Buyo guarded the rebel ceremony, wearing muddy boots and mingling with other young guerrillas. Nearby, parents, siblings and friends used the occasion to reunite with rebels, who came down from a mountain stronghold, embracing each other and exchanging stories and cell phone numbers. An emotion-gripped mother said she saw her son for the first time after he joined the rebellion 10 years ago.
A new generation of fighters ensures that the revolution will continue, said Mr. Madlos, a 62-year-old rebel known for his trademark Mao-style cap and goatee. “I’m happy knowing that with them the rebellion will go on,” he said.
Engendered by the Cold War in the late 1960s, the rural-based insurrection has emerged as this Southeast Asian nation’s most serious security menace, stoked by decades of poverty, agrarian unrest, government corruption and misrule. Five presidents have failed to crush the Maoist rebellion, which has killed at least 120,000 combatants and civilians.
The party dates from its split from an older Communist group at a conference Dec. 26, 1968, in northern Pangasinan province. That date also was the 75th birthday of China’s Mao Tse-Tung.
Washington has blacklisted the Communist Party and its armed wing, the 5,000-strong New People's Army, as terrorist organizations, blaming them for separate attacks that killed four American military personnel in the 1980s.
The rebels walked away from peace talks brokered by Norway in 2004, suspecting then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European Union terrorist lists.
Since assuming office in June, Mr. Aquino has begun tackling pervasive government corruption and human rights violations blamed on state security forces that have helped breed the insurgency.
His promises to tackle poverty and graft could boost upcoming peace talks with rebels and make irrelevant the country’s communist insurgency, Mr. Padilla told the Associated Press in an interview.