Communist leader says Duterte using rebels as diversion for mishandling pandemic

<i>Photo: Joma Sison / FB, Presidential Communications Group / FB</i>
Photo: Joma Sison / FB, Presidential Communications Group / FB

Someone had to say it.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s PHP2 million (US$39,700) bounty offer to capture communist rebels is merely a diversion from his poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison said in a statement posted on his Facebook today.

Sison’s statement comes a day after the president, instead of announcing when the lockdown will be lifted in Metro Manila, detoured to say that he is offering a PHP2 million reward to anyone who could help in the capture of top officials of the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist rebel group. The president went as far as to say that anyone willing to do so will become a protected witness, and will be relocated to a different town for safety reasons.

Read: Duterte offers PHP2 million reward for capture of communist rebels

Sison said that the bounty will only spur fake encounters and surrenders and more murders. It also diverts from the immediate pandemic problem.

“In his last broadcast, Duterte put a great deal of emphasis on his offer of two million pesos for the head of every top NPA commander who is killed. With this kind of offer, we can expect his armed minions to manufacture more NPA commanders so that they will receive the cash reward as they have from previous fake surrenders and fake encounters. We can expect more murders being committed by military and police officers against innocent civilians who are misrepresented as NPA commanders,” the 81-year-old leader said.

“Duterte thinks that he is clever in offering [a] cash reward for the killing of NPA commanders [but he is actually] deflecting attention from his gross incompetence and failure to perform the tasks for effecting the medical solution in the fight against Covid-19. Like his previous order to shoot dead any violator of the lockdown, his order to kill NPA commanders will result in the murder of many innocent people,” he added.

Read: ‘I will bury you’: Duterte threatens rioters, leftist groups challenging gov’t during Luzon lockdown

Sison added that “by using Covid-19 as pretext, Duterte has been able to grab emergency powers and 275 billion pesos supposedly for mass testing, medical treatment of the sick, food and economic assistance for the people who have been deprived of livelihood by the lockdown.”

“Duterte has made a rambling and inane multi-media broadcast every week during the lockdown but he has not given any rational plan for the use of 275 billion pesos. And there has been no accounting of the disbursement of these funds,” Sison said.

Read: Duterte signs law granting him additional powers in fight against coronavirus

Duterte signed the Bayanihan (“Camaraderie”) to Heal as One Act of 2020 on March 25, granting him broad powers to address the pandemic, including providing cash aids for low-income families, and providing compensation for health workers severely infected by the virus.

The cash aid disbursal has been met with criticism, with middle-income families saying that they have been overlooked by the government’s COVID-19 relief. Only 14.8 million of the targeted 18 million low-income families have been reported to receive the cash aid as of May 9.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque announced late last month that cash aid for poor families will be stopped once residents in an area are no longer under the enhanced community quarantine.

Following the announcement of eased quarantines in some areas in the country, lawmakers yesterday called for the government to continue distributing cash aid to poor families despite a transition into the general community quarantine (GCQ).

“SAP [Social Amelioration Program] should continue to be distributed even if a region is under GCQ…[I]t’s clear that many have lost their jobs and are looking for jobs, even in regions under GCQ, this second tranche of SAP will help,” said ACT Teachers party-list Representative France Castro.

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