Updated 09:16 AM PHT Thu, February 9, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The government is waging an "all-out war" against armed communist rebels, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Tuesday.
"Yes, it is an all-out war because they are already considered by the President as terrorist[s]," Lorenzana said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he now considers the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), together with its sub-groups, the New People's Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), as a terrorist group.
Lorenzana, however, clarified that the military is only going after the NPA, the armed unit of the CPP which has waged a 48-year-old insurgency.
An "all-out war" means the government will use all available assets of the Armed Forces to accomplish its mission, AFP spokesman Col. Edgardo Arevalo said in a separate press briefing.
"Our intention is to defeat the enemy, to defeat the New People's Army," Arevalo said.
The communist rebels' "peace-loving supporters" will remain unharmed, Lorenzana said.
The Armed Forces promised to secure civilians amid heightened military operations.
"We will ensure there will be no collateral damage at the most that we could avoid it," Arevalo said.
The NPA has yet to release a statement on the government's "all-out war," but it has earlier admitted initiating 20 offensives against government forces last week, and capturing at least three soldiers.
NPA rebels nabbed, surrendered
The government has deployed enough troops to hunt down an estimated 5,000 NPA rebels in the country, Lorenzana said.
According to the Armed Forces, military operations against the NPA has so far been "successful," four days after Duterte lifted the government's unilateral ceasefire declaration on Friday night.
At least two NPA rebels have been arrested while seven have surrendered to authorities as of Tuesday afternoon, the AFP said in a statement. Authorities recovered high-powered firearms and an improvised explosive device from the rebels.
Another rebel was killed in Davao City on Monday. Police said the rebel resisted arrest. One other rebel was slain in Occidental Mindoro on Sunday, authorities said.
The government is urging communist rebels to turn themselves in.
Lorenzana said the NPA is no different from the Abu Sayyaf group, another terrorist group that the Armed Forces of the Philippines are trying to topple. Both groups abduct people and extort money, he said.
The Armed Forces said NPA rebels killed three soldiers in Bukidnon on February 1, despite earlier declaring that their unilateral ceasefire will end on February 10. Lorenzana said this is the "last straw" that led to Duterte's withdrawal from the peace talks on Sunday.
The fourth round of peace talks under the Duterte administration was supposed to resume in Oslo, Norway on April 2-6. It is the NDF that represents rebels in peace negotiations, since the NPA has been outlawed through Republic Act 1700.
The NDF has said it is hoping to continue with the peace talks.
TIMELINE: Peace talks between the government and communist rebels