Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military and police forces to “finish off” and “kill” all communist rebels in the country, prompting fears that it could unleash a new wave of bloodshed similar to his deadly war on drugs.
“I’ve told the military and the police, that if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them, and finish them off if they are alive,” Duterte said on Friday, as he addressed a government meeting aimed at countering communism.
“Just make sure to return their bodies to their respective families.”
“Forget about human rights. That’s my order. I’m willing to go to jail, that’s not a problem,” the president added, speaking in his native Visayan language commonly used in the southern island of Mindanao, where the meeting was held.
“I do not have any qualms about doing the things that I have to do.”
Addressing the communist rebels directly, Duterte said, “You are all bandits. You have no ideology. Even China and Russia are all capitalists now.”
At the same time, he promised them jobs, housing and livelihood if they give up arms.
The communist rebels have been fighting the government in the Philippines since 1968 – one of the longest-running Maoist uprising in the world. According to the military, the rebellion has already claimed more than 30,000 lives during the last 53 years.
Several presidents had attempted but failed to reach a peace agreement with the rebels, whose leader, Jose Maria Sison is now in self-exile in The Netherlands.
When he ran for president in 2016, Duterte promised to finally put an end to the rebellion through peace talks, highlighting his ties with rebel commanders when he was the mayor of Davao City in Mindanao, where the communist insurrection is still active.
After taking office, Duterte ordered direct talks with the communists, only to find the military and the rebels in frequent armed encounters.
Following fierce clashes between government forces and rebels in 2017, Duterte called off the peace process and later signed a proclamation labelling the communist fighters as “terrorists”.
Later in 2018, a special task force against communism was formed by the president to go after the rebels and their supporters.
Critics and human rights activists, however, said that the special body is also being deployed against mainstream left-leaning politicians and other critics of Duterte.
Several Duterte administration officials have also been accused of “indiscriminately” labelling anyone critical of the president, including members of the academe, journalists and activists, as “communists”.
Rodrigo Duterte just gave a marching order to the police and the military against communists: “kill them all.” Please read up on what happened in Indonesia in the 1960s when their government decided to kill and exterminate all communists.
— Philip Jamilla (@pmjamilla) March 5, 2021
With his latest threat on Friday, there are now fears that it could prompt more violence similar to his war on drugs, which according to the government and rights groups have killed between 6,000 and more than 27,000 people.
In recent months, a number of activists, lawyers and doctors have been killed by unknown gunmen, after they were tagged in public and on social media as communist sympathisers and active communist rebels.
Teddy Casino, an activist and former member of Congress, wrote on social media, “This is madman levels. Not even Marcos was this openly brazen and brutal.” Casino was making reference to the late Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, whom Duterte reveres.
In 2020, the Duterte administration also successfully pushed for the passage of the Anti-Terror Law, which some legal analysts have warned could be also used as a legal cover for more government abuses.
In his speech on Friday, Duterte admitted that he “does not understand” what the rebels are fighting for.
“You have been fighting in the last 53 years and now, I already have great-grandchildren and you are still fighting,” he said.
“You want to overthrow the government? You don’t even have a boat.”