Defense chief thumbs down Duterte idea of arming civilians vs. NPA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana opposes President Rodrigo Duterte's idea of arming civilians to fight communist rebels.

In a statement on Sunday, Lorenzana said, "it may not be advisable to arm everybody for all the problems that it may cause."

This is in response to Duterte's January 9 speech wherein he said, "Ako sinasabi ko lang sa NPA (New People's Army), ayaw kong armasan ang mga tao. Pero 'pag sige ganun ang ano, I will allow the purchase of individual firearm. Pati 'yung mga mayor bigyan ko 'yan ng armas talaga. Wala akong magawa eh."

[Translation: I'm just telling the NPA, I don't want to arm everyone, but if push comes to shove, I will allow the purchase of individual firerams. Even the mayors, I will give them arms. I have no choice.]

READ: Duterte mulls arming mayors to combat communist rebels

Lorenzana said what the President is thinking is "possible but with lots of challenges."

"I would suggest not arming everyone. Who are the people to be armed? Do we have enough firearms to arm everybody?" Lorenzana said, adding that they should get proper training first.

The country's defense chief also raised a concern over how the government can make sure these firearms would not be used for unauthorized activities.

What the government can do instead is to train and hire more militiamen or members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU). "The beauty of the CAFGU program is that they are under the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and subject to military justice."

Duterte has been following recommendations made by Lorenzana. For the first time in three years, the Duterte government in did not reciprocate the NPA's unilateral ceasefire for Christmas and New Year, as Lorenzana said a truce would only give rebels a chance to catch government troops off guard.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which has been waging a five-decade insurgency, the longest-running in Asia. Duterte walked away from peace talks with the rebels in November 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations.