PH military shifts focus to communist rebels amid ISIS threat

MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces chief General Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the military has started moving troops who fought terrorists in Marawi in western Mindanao to the eastern part of the island to fight another front: the stubborn communist insurgency. (READ: Duterte's martial law also targets NPA)

"With the marching orders of the President and with the declaration of the NPAs as terrorists, for sure we will be giving more importance and more focus on our operations against the CPP-NPA especially now that we have observed an upsurge in the atrocities," Guerrero said in a press briefing on Friday, December 15. 

Guerrero said the residents should expect patrols, checkpoints, and military visibility in populated centers. (READ: Congress extends martial law in Mindanao)

The extension of martial law in Mindanao primarily cited the need to crush the threat of another "rebellion" coming from the "remnants" of armed groups linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS). But military statements and movements lately have concentrated on the communist rebels, the secondary target of the martial law extension.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the proclamation officially tagging the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) as a terrorist organization on December 5, after he announced the termination of peace talks with communist rebels.

The miilitary operations against the NPA will be nationwide. The communist rebels also have considerable presence in parts of Luzon and the Visayas.

"The people can expect intensifed focused military operations to be conducted nationwide, especially in Mindanao," Guerrero said. 

Guerrero is the new implementor of martial law in Mindanao after replacing retired AFP chief General Eduardo Año in October. Prior to the top military post, he was the commanding general of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), which has responsibility over areas where communist rebels are concentrated.

He was supposed to retire this month but his term was extended until April 2018.

Guerrero said the military will continue to hunt down the "remnants" of the terrorist groups in western Mindanao but the military has to catch up on its campaign plan against the communist rebels, which he said was affected when troops were concentrated in Marawi to fight the war there. 

He said less skirmishes are now expected in Marawi but the military will continue to monitor other areas like Sulu and Basilan. –