President Duterte declares the communist party and its armed wing a terrorist organization

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 5) —  President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) a terrorist organization, making good the words he had earlier announced.

The President's decision is contained in a proclamation, which was welcomed by the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"It was a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army as a designated identified terrorist organization under RA (Republic Act) 10168, the Human Security Act," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a news briefing.

The President last November 19 said he considered communist rebels as criminals after the death of a four-month-old baby and two other civilians in a November 9 ambush in Bukidnon.

When Duterte first announced his plan to label the NPA a terror organization, some senators expressed support. They said it was long overdue because the NPA had been on the terror list of the United States since 2002.

Duterte had also threatened to go on a strong offensive against militant groups.

The proclamation still has to go through court before the CPP-NPA is officially designated a terrorist organization, Roque said.

The President's proclamation also orders the Justice Department to file necessary motions before a Regional Trial Court.

He stressed the court procedure gives the CPP-NPA due process and a venue to explain why they should not be declared as terrorists.

Roque also said arrests will only occur if a person commits a crime listed under the Human Security Act with the intention to sow fear and panic. He said those who participate in a peaceful assembly of the CPP-NPA will not be arrested, but those who finance them may be held liable.

"In so far as financing terrorist organizations and activities are concerned, anyone caught financing the NPA now could be held liable under the special law. But for purposes of the Human Security Act, there would have to be a predicate crime committed with additional element of sowing fear and panic," he said.

Under the Human Security Act of 2007, a person found guilty of terrorism should be sentenced to jail  for 40 years without parole.

The crime is given heavier penalty than rebellion, which is punishable by reclusion perpetua or 20 to 40 years of imprisonment, but eligible for pardon after 30 years.

Terrorism under the law, includes rebellion, insurrection, murder, and arson, among others.

AFP: Military ops to be 'more precise'

The proclamation ensures the Armed Forces will be able to "fully execute and perform its mandate without reservation and restrictions," said AFP spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla.

"This proclamation clearly classifies and labels the group for what they really are and will simplify military and law enforcement operations as efforts against lawless elements and enemies of the state," Padilla said in a statement.

"The AFP's Focused Military Operations will now become even more precise, simple and effective," it added.

The Department of National Defense also supported the President's declaration.

"We have long since maintained that the CPP-NPA is a blight to the Filipino people, with its members engaging in constant criminal activities and wanton acts of terror," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.

He added that the government had "walked the extra mile" to accommodate the group through peace talks but they had "imposed unreasonable conditions and continued their criminal acts. "

"Clearly their aim is not the welfare of the Filipino but the pursuit of their selfish agenda. Henceforth, they will be called Communist Terrorists," he said.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, however, gave only a short, muted statement on the proclamation.

"President Duterte has spoken," Dureza said.

"The next step is for the Secretary of Justice to file a petition in court under the provisions of the Human Security Act for a judicial affirmation," said Dureza.

"Let's await its outcome," he added.

Prior to the termination of peace talks, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had engaged led negotiations with the CPP's political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Duterte suspended the fifth round of peace talks with communist rebels on May 27 after the NPA increase its offensive against government forces throughout the country.

The Philippines is the 12th among 163 countries most affected by terrorism worldwide, and the first in Southeast Asia, according to the 2017 report of the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace.

The ranking was based on the number of attacks and deaths resulting from such crimes.

The report cited the NPA for attacks, mostly on government forces and officials.