PH ‘assessing’ China sea buildup

The Philippine government has been “assessing” China’s continued militarization in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte’s top security adviser said on Tuesday amid reports that Beijing has nearly completed military installations in at least seven reefs in the contested waters.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government would look into the new structures in the artificial islands as it “could be used against us.”

“We are assessing all of them. So what are the purposes of those structures? They could be for civilian use but we should look to possibilities that they could be used against us. If they are for military use, then that is something that we should look into,” Esperon told reporters in an interview.

He issued the statement following a newspaper report which said that Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), and McKennan (Hughes) reefs had nearly been transformed into air and naval facilities based on aerial photos.

Esperon said the government had been in possession of the photos “months back.”

Asked if the Philippine government would lodge a diplomatic complaint against China’s militarization, Esperon said, “That’s part of the array of options that we can take. Kaya pinag-aaralaan natin ng mabuti (That’s why we are studying it carefully).”

Esperon, who heads the task force on the West Philippine Sea, said the government was considering an “array of courses of action” to undertake.

“Leave it us. We are trying our best under the circumstances to protect and watch over what is ours whether by virtue of sovereign rights or by sovereignty,” he said.

Esperon said the Philippines would remain friendly with China as it could not afford to declare war.
“What do you want us to do? Go to war? There are actions that we are doing,” he said.

“We can work out things. Keep calm. The South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of our relationship with other countries. This West Philippine Sea is not everything but it is very important.”

Duterte to host dinner for ex-NPAs in Malacañang

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) are now in Manila for a scheduled dinner in Malacañang with President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night.

Major Ezra Balagtey, spokesman of the AFP-EastMinCom, said the first batch of NPA rebels who returned to the fold of the law were sent off at the Tactical Operation Group 10 in Sasa, Panacan, Davao City about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) arrived in Manila Tuesday morning. They are scheduled to meet with in Malacañang with President Duterte on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Ezra Balagtey / AFP Eastern Command / MANILA BULLETIN)

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) arrived in Manila Tuesday morning. They are scheduled to meet with President Duterte in Malacañang on February 7.
(Photo courtesy of Maj. Ezra Balagtey / AFP Eastern Command / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement, Balagtey said the dinner to be held starting at 5 p.m. is meant to encourage the active participation of the former rebels in nation-building and peace efforts.

Prior to the dinner, the rebel-returnees will be welcomed at Tejeros Hall in Camp Aguinaldo at 8 a.m. tomorrow which will be presided by Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Rey Leonard Guerrero.

The former rebels will also have an educational tour of Intramuros and Malacañang in Manila, and other historic places.

In coordination with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Balagtey said the former rebels will then be brought to the mushroom production and other farms in Bulacan to help them get ideas on how to improve their lives and be self-sustaining.

It will be an all-expense-paid trip, Balagtey said.

AFP spokesman Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo earlier said that the surrender of many NPA rebels is “unprecedented” and proves that their campaign against the communists is effective.

Arevalo said just for the month of January 2018 alone, some 326 NPA rebels have already surrendered to authorities to lead new lives in mainstream society.

Martial law extension in Mindanao affirmed

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a one-year extension of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law decree covering Mindanao, a ruling that critics described as a blow to human rights.

Duterte initially imposed military rule across Mindanao—home to about 20 million people—in May last year, when the military was fighting a deadly uprising by pro-Islamic State group militants in Marawi City.

Congress later endorsed his plan to prolong martial rule across the region until the end of 2018. But rights campaigners, warning of a looming dictatorship, asked the Supreme Court in December to block the extension.

“The President and Congress had sufficient factual bases to extend [martial rule],” the court said in a statement Tuesday, summarizing the justices’ 10-5 vote to throw out the petition.

“The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists,” it added, saying public safety required the extension.

Hundreds of gunmen rampaged  through the Islamic city of Marawi in May last year in what authorities said was part of an attempt to establish a Southeast Asian base for IS in the mainly Catholic Philippines.

A military campaign took five months to defeat the militants, with the battle claiming more than 1,100 lives and leaving large parts of Marawi in ruins.

Duterte declared in October that the city was “liberated” and military chiefs said militant leaders, including the IS leader in Southeast Asia, had been killed.

But authorities have said that those who escaped are regrouping and recruiting in Mindanao.

Duterte, who is also waging a deadly drug war throughout the country, has repeatedly warned he may impose martial law across the entire nation to fight crime and terrorism.

Martial law is an extremely sensitive issue in the Philippines, after dictator Ferdinand Marcos used military rule to hold on to power a generation ago.

Opponents argued that extended martial law violated a constitutional provision limiting the initial period to 60 days.

However, Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling said the Constitution was “silent” on how many times Congress may extend martial law.

The Supreme Court added that claims of rights violations under martial law were “speculative.”

An Amnesty International report in November said troops detained and tortured civilians trying to flee Marawi.

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman, who was among those who filed the petition, said Tuesday’s ruling would lead to a derogation of civil liberties.

“The Supreme Court verdict will embolden President Rodrigo Duterte in flouting the rule of law,” Lagman said.

Siding with the position of Congress and Malacañang, the majority of the magistrates ruled that the Court has no power to review the decision of Congress to grant the request of the President for an extension of martial law.

“Each House of Congress has full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules; the exercise of this power is generally exempt from judicial supervision and interference,” the Court said in a decision written by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.

The nine justices who concurred with the ruling were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dissented from the ruling and was joined by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

The Court said it could only step in once there is clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of such power by Congress under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, which it said is lacking in this case.

The justices also disagreed with the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution does not fix a period or duration for such an extension and is also actually silent as to how many times the Congress can extend a martial law declaration by the President.

The Court also held that the factual bases for the martial law declaration remain in Mindanao, citing the facts submitted by the Armed Forces during oral arguments last month.

The Armed Forces earlier told the Court that terroristic activities in Mindanao did not end when the government won the war against the Maute Group in Marawi City in October last year.

It revealed that 48 foreign terrorists have in fact arrived in Mindanao and are now actively participating in training recruits, adding that the remaining members of the Maute group intensified their recruitment efforts.

The tribunal also held that the government being unable to sufficiently govern, assure public safety and deliver services is not a requisite for declaration of martial law.

“When the President and Congress ascertain whether public safety requires the declaration and extension of martial law, they do so by calibrating not only the present state of public safety but the further repercussions of the actual rebellion to public safety in the future as well,” it said.

“The Constitution’s requirement is met when there is sufficient factual bases to hold that the present and past acts constituting the actual rebellion are if such greater character that endanger and will endanger public safety,” it added.

Lastly, the Court ruled that there are safeguards against abuse under martial law under the Constitution as it dismissed as speculative the claims of human rights violations by the military.

The defense and military establishment expressed its gratitude to the Supreme Court.

“With the highest court in the land upholding President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration which was approved by Congress, the whole of government can now fully pursue with great vigor its efforts in ending the continuing rebellion in Mindanao decisively,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling.

AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo was also elated, saying the Court decision would allow them to perform the fresh mandate given them by the President and Congress.

“The decision is a vote of confidence to the AFP and we would like to assure our countrymen that, just as we have done before, the AFP will continue to protect our people against all rebel forces,” Arevalo said.

Lagman expressed his disappointment in the ruling.

“The majority of the Supreme Court justices can be supreme even in their error,” he said.

“When the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court fall in cadence with the President and the Congress in violating the Constitution, then the country is abandoned in the quagmire of tripartite derogation of the people’s civil liberties,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, also a petitioner, warned that the decision would lead to more violations of human rights.

“This is a tragic day for the cause of human rights. The Supreme Court failed to see the suffering of Mindanaoans who are victims of the military abuses due to martial law,” Zarate said.

More guns recovered from Sulu village chiefs

MANILA, Philippines — At least 11 rifles and various types of ammunition have been recovered from barangay captains and residents of a town in Sulu as the military intensifies it campaign against loose firearms.

The chairmen of Barangays Luuk Tulay, Sangkap, Nyog-Nyog, Kamawi and Andallan in Pata turned over an M16 and eight M1 Garand to the 31st Marine Company of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 led by Lt. Col. Stephen Cabanlet on Monday, Capt. Maria Rowena Dalmacio, director of the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, said yesterday.

Dalmacio said two residents of Barangays Kawayan and Kanjarang also turned over a Garand and an M16.

“The series of civil-military operations in the area motivates local leaders to cooperate with the Marines to have a gun-free community,” Cabanlet said.

Maj. Gen. Alvin Pareño, Philippine Marine Corps commandant, lauded the troops and called on local government officials to help security officials ensure peace in Mindanao.

On Friday, Pata Mayor Anton Burahan and several barangay officials turned over a .50-caliber Barrett, four M16, three M14 and five Garand rifles; three 81mm mortar tubes, a recoilless rocket and an M79 grenade launcher with rounds of ammunition, assorted magazines and clips.

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Five M16-A1 and M1 Garand rifles as well as several magazines and rounds of ammunition were received by the 31st Marine Company in Barangay Saimbangon on Saturday.

Palace downplays China’s ‘almost done’ militarization in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday downplayed reports that China is almost done militarizing seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the South China Sea, saying the Chinese built the structures before President Duterte assumed office.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the islands, located off Palawan, were reclaimed during the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.

“You know when I saw the headline, yes, it’s a fact perhaps, but is that news? I don’t think so. I think the moment that they start the reclamation, they declared that they will use it, they will have military facilities into the islands,” he added.

“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what (do) they want us to do? We cannot declare war. Not only is it illegal, but it is also… because it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point,” Roque said in a press briefing.

In 2013, the Aquino administration filed a case with the UN-backed arbitral tribunal based in The Hague contesting China’s massive claim in the South China Sea. Three years later, the tribunal issued a ruling invalidating Beijing’s claim and reaffirming Manila’s maritime entitlements.

But the ruling did not stop China from building artificial islands over Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson South) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, which are all within Philippine territory.

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Duterte, who has been seeking closer ties with China, has set aside the ruling but promised to bring it up before Chinese leaders within his term. Malacañang has said the Philippines would continue to rely on China’s promise that it would not reclaim new islands.

“Those islands were reclaimed during the time of the former administration. They were complete in fact during the time of the previous administration, and I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases,” Roque said.

“So, what do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” he added.

“As I said this militarization, if you can call it militarization, did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized and the question is, ‘what can we do?’ What did the past administration do and what can we do?”

Roque said China has not built new artificial islands since Duterte assumed office in 2016. He brushed aside claims that China’s construction activities would allow it to have de facto control of Philippine-claimed islands in the South China Sea.

“I don’t think there’s been an instance when China has curtailed freedom of navigation despite the fact that they have weapons in these reclaimed islands,” the spokesman said.

“We hope not because after all, all countries that (have claims) are under obligation to refrain from the use of force, that is illegal under international law,” he added.

Roque also shrugged off remarks from Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that relying on the good faith of China is like relying on the good faith of a thief.

“This is a democracy, he’s entitled to his opinion. But I would expect that next time, we would read his opinion in the form of a court decision because that’s the function of the judicial branch of government… Or as I said, he could run an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government,” he said.

AFP unfazed by Joma Sison’s threat to kill soldier daily

MANILA, Philippines —  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not going to be cowed by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison’s threat to have the New People’s Army (NPA) kill one soldier a day to force the government to resume peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“To live in constant danger is part of the sworn duty of every serviceman. With or without threat to the lives of our soldiers, our troops will be there for our people in the communities where they are most needed,” military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday.

“Such threat by Joma only shows the true color of the CPP-NPA, (but) that will not diminish our resolve to further enhance our services,” he added.

Arevalo said the AFP would continue to do its mandate of serving and protecting the people from NPA rebels, now considered terrorists by the government.

For his part, Lt. Col. Louie Villanueva, spokesman for the Philippine Army, said soldiers always abide by the provision of human rights.

“What we are promoting is peace. We are not after waging war against (terrorists). We want to offer (them peaceful resolution),” Villanueva stressed.

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Sison, in a statement, denounced the recent arrest of NDF consultants like Rafael Baylosis who, according to him, are protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

As its chief political consultant, Sison advised the NDF to recommend to the CPP and NPA to respect the JASIG as a solemn agreement that protects the negotiating personnel of both the NDF and the government.

“It is good to keep open the possibility of resuming the peace negotiations rather than violate the JASIG and undermine confidence in the peace process,” Sison said.

What the NPA can do, Sison added, to persuade the government to resume the negotiations is to carry out the CPP’s tactical offensives against armed units of the AFP, Philippine National Police and auxiliary forces and to punish human rights violators, local tyrants, land grabbers, drug lords and other notorious criminals.

The AFP, on the other hand, believes that the NPA is weakened by combat military operations and efforts to educate the people of the false promises that the communist movement gives.

One proof of the rebel group’s diminishing capability, the military claimed, was the surrender of 326 self-confessed members of the rebel group last month.

The NPA has no basis to arrest government negotiators, Malacañang said yesterday, after a lawmaker warned that the capture of communist consultants could prod the rebels to retaliate.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao has warned that the arrest of NDF consultants could prompt the NPA to capture members of the government negotiating panel.

Casilao made the remark days after government forces arrested NDF consultant Baylosis and his companion Guillermo Roque in Quezon City, the first communists to be nabbed since President Duterte classified the NPA and the CPP as terrorist groups.

But presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the NPA rebels would commit a criminal act or a war crime if they seize government negotiators.

“That will be a crime; that would be kidnapping, if not, a violation also of (international humanitarian law) because combatants will be apprehending innocent civilians. The peace negotiators are not combatants. I underscore that fact, and they’re not facing any arrest warrants,” Roque said in a press briefing.

Roque said Baylosis’ arrest was pursuant to a lawful arrest order.

“He will have to defend himself in court as required by law, and he will have to prove that he is innocent of the criminal charges lodged against him,” the spokesman said. – Alexis Romero

Palace brushes off Reds’ threats

By Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos

Malacañang is still not talking with the communist rebels despite the threat of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison that he will ask the New People’s Army (NPA) to kill one soldier per day.

Sison’s threat was made two months after President Duterte scrapped the peace talks with the communist rebels, citing their insincerity and supposed ceasefire violations.

Illegal arrest

The Palace likewise stressed that it would be illegal for the NPA to arrest members of the Philippine government’s (GRP’s) peace panel in exchange for the release of National Democratic Front (NDF) leader Rafael Baylosis.

Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao earlier said government’s refusal to heed the call for the release of Baylosis may result in the capture of GRP peace panel mebers by the communists.


Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, in a press briefing Monday, said Sison must think so little of the government forces and that the CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front) controls the country.

He added that the government will not indulge the request of the CPP-NPA-NDF to talk, telling President Duterte’s former professor to just watch how the government will deal with the communist rebels.

“Bakit kami luluhod? Ano ba ang akala niya sa Hukbong Sandataan, hindi natin sila kaya? Manuod siya (Why should we submit to them? Does he think that the Armed Forces of the Philippines don’t stand a chance against them? He should watch us),” Roque said.

” The President really does not want bloodshed but he should not threaten the government like he controls the entire country,” Roque added.

Legal process for Baylosis

On the arrest of Baylosis, Roque reiterated that he was arrested on legal grounds.

“We’d like to underscore first that the arrest of Mr. Baylosis was pursuant to a lawful arrest order. Now as such, we should allow the legal process to proceed so that our justice system can take its due course,” Roque said.

“He will have to defend himself in court as required by law, and he will have to prove that he is innocent of the criminal charges lodged against him,” he added.

Palace brushes off Reds’ threats

Palace vows to push back vs NPA rebels

THE Philippine government will not back down in its campaign against members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), Malacañang warned on Monday amid the threat of CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison that the rebel group would kill one soldier per day to force the government to revive the peace talks.

“We will not kneel. What does he think of our Armed Forces? That we will not push back? Watch us,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said.

“There is no difference in the position of the NPA because even during the height of the peace talks, they were killing soldiers. What’s new?” he added.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, said Sison’s threats only shows the “true colors” of the communists.


“Such threat will not diminish our resolve to further enhance our services especially peace and development efforts; and infrastructure development particularly in the countryside,” Arevalo said in a statement.

“To live in constant danger is part of the sworn duty of every serviceman. With or without threat to the lives of our soldiers, our troops will be there for our people in the communities where they are most needed,” he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Sison’s statement cleared battle lines.

“What else is new? They have been killing our men in greater [number]before. That’s good so that the battle lines are clear.”

According to Sison, the NPA has the “advantage” since it enjoys the support of the people and can launch ambushes and raids “by surprise.”

“In sharp contrast, the reactionary troops are hated by the people, are exposed to public view and are practically deaf and blind in operations against the NPA most of the time,” he said.

Roque warned Sison to stop threatening the government.

“The President does not want any blood to drop but he [Sison] should not threaten the government like he controls the Philippines. The government had peace talks because we want to let all Filipinos live in peace. But they did not want to, [they broke ceasefires].”

“Even during peace talks and even if they were given free passes, all expenses paid trips to Norway, they continued killing our soldiers,” Roque said.

The peace talks between the CPP/NDF and the government were cancelled in November last year.

Palace vows to push back vs NPA rebels

AFP recovers loose firearms from civilians in Sulu

THE military’s twin campaigns against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the recovery of loose firearms in the hands of civilians in Sulu are continuing to gather steam as more firearms were surrendered to troops over the weekend.

Marine Spokesman Capt. Maria Rowena Dalmacio said five residents of Barangay Kiput, Pata, Sulu, turned over firearms to members of the Philippine Marines Ready Force—Sulu under Col. Armel Totalo.

The surrender of firearms to the 31st Marine Company of Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 stationed at Barangay Saimbangon, Pata, was facilitated by Barley Sahid, barangay chairman of Kiput.

The loose firearms that were yielded included three M16 rifles with five magazines and 104 rounds of ammunition and two pieces of M1 Garand rifles with four clips and 29 rounds of ammunition.

The turnover of firearms last Saturday followed the surrender of high-powered firearms to Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana by the local officials of Pata, headed by Mayor Anton Burahan, and even by other officials.

Sobejana said among those surrendered were three 81mm mortar tubes, a 90rr and a  cal .50 barrel; four M16 rifles,  M14 rifles, five Garand rifles; and one M-79 grenade launcher.

It also included 149 rounds of M16 ammunition, 176 rounds of cal. 30 machinegun and round for 40mm, six pieces magazine clips for M16, six magazines for M14 and 27 clips for Garand.

“The genuine gesture of Mayor Burahan and his constituents in giving up voluntarily their war materiel can be a good example to all other government officials and the Tausogs as a whole, who are bearing arms illegally,” said Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.

“The surrender is brought about by the relentless campaign of JTF Sulu against illegally possessed firearms. It is really our goal to make Sulu a gun-free province,” he added.

Last Wednesday Marine personnel also recovered several firearms and ammunition ay Barangay Pisak Pisak, also in Pata following the surrender of ASG members.

Two days before that, Marine elements accepted the surrender of ASG members, who brought along with them weapons that included a cal. 50 machine gun, 150 rounds of cal. 50 ammunition, a base plate of 81mm mortar, a bi-pod of 81mm mortar, a tripod of cal. 50, eight 81mm mortar ammunition, four ammunition for 90rr and 50 rounds of 60mm mortars ammunition.

AFP recovers loose firearms from civilians in Sulu

AFP sees NPA threat being degraded


MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is optimistic that the country’s insurgency problem will be resolved soon, citing the diminishing strength – if not the imminent defeat – of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The AFP issued the statement following the surrender of 326 NPA guerrillas last month.

“Should the trend continue, the AFP is confident that it could hit its target,” AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday.

He said the higher number of surrenders in January alone indicated what to expect in the coming months, although the military is careful not to claim that victory is at hand when it comes to neutralizing the NPA.

While many are turning themselves in, Arevalo said the AFP is doing its best to prevent the communist group from recruiting new members.

“We’re going to deny them the opportunity to recruit. Not only will our combat and focused military operations continue, but also our programs to inform the would-be recruits of what awaits them through the help of their local government and communities if they change their ways,” he said.

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The unprecedented number of NPA surrenderees can be attributed to President Duterte’s call for the rebels to lay down their arms, AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia said.

He said among those who recently surrendered to the military was 35-year-old Gemma Quiroga of Davao Oriental, who turned herself in to the Army’s 28th Infantry Battalion on Jan. 28.

Quiroga served as a doctor for the rebels and chairperson of Anakpawis, a known leftist organization in Mati City.

Garcia said the AFP is hoping that the influx of surrenderees would encourage other rebels to also lay down their arms, abandon extremist violence and go for peace.

The AFP commended its various units on the ground for effectively using military pressure against the NPA and for the humane treatment of those who surrender.