Lieutenant-General Hermogenes Esperon, commander of the 70,000-member ground forces, said the military was ready to do battle with fighters of the New People's Army (NPA) and was also
focusing on development work in poor rural villages to check the expansion of rebel influence.

"We'll fight them and the plans are laid out," Esperon said in an interview at an army fortress near Manila's business district.

"The president has decided that we do not go on peace talks with them. They take advantage of the democratic space. They take advantage of the security and immunity guarantees. They roam and propagandise, arouse, organise and mobilise."

The Philippines, Washington's closest security ally in Southeast Asia, estimates that the NPA membership at 7,000, down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s.

The insurgency is active in 69 of 79 provinces and the government says it has stunted rural development through violence and "revolutionary war taxes".