AFP aims to reduce number of communist rebels by half in 2018

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 9) — With martial law in Mindanao extended until the end of the year, the military is intensifying its campaign against the communist rebels.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Rey Guerrero estimates there are currently about 3,700 communist rebels.

"We intend to reduce that number by half for 2018," Guerrero said during the annual New Year's Call on Tuesday.

However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the government is still open to pursuing the peace talks.

"If the environment is good, and there is trust from both sides, hindi yung nagtataguan ng mga information o naglolokohan lang, so it's still possible," Lorenzana said.

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

On December 5 last year, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines, along with its armed wing, the New People's Army, a terrorist organization.

This follows the formal cancellation of the peace talks between the government and the Left on November 23.

READ: Duterte formally ends talks with Reds

Aside from the communist rebels, the military and the Defense Department also warned of a possible repeat of the five-month long Marawi siege, where members of the terror group Maute figured in heavy firefights against government troopers.

"Sa ngayon hindi namin ma quantify kasi, sabi nga natin, they just come in, then, hindi mo alam kung talagang, foreign fighters sila, or in terms, sasama sila sa actual engagement," said Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista.

He added the extended martial law would allow the military to pursue remnants of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, as well as cripple the support from foreign terrorists.