Manila, Jan. 25, 2003 (Tribune) - Days after the daylight assassination of former New People’s Army chieftain Romulo “Rolly” Kintanar, President Arroyo indicated that the NPAs are stepping up their activities in Metro Manila as she called on tightened security for government officials primarily five Cabinet members who she said are in the communist NPA hit list.

The Cabinet members, presidential chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, National Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez and Press Secretary Hernani Braganza are on the hit list, Mrs. Arroyo said yesterday.

The President said she appointed police Chief Supt. Romeo Maganto to head a task force that would run after NPA hit squads operating in Metro Manila.

Tiglao was a member of the leftist group during the Marcos years.

Ople, for his part, played a role in the declaration of the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

Reyes, on the other hand, has intensified the war against communist insurgents throughout the country.

Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina Jr. and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. were also ordered by Malacañang to immediately form the task force.

In an impromptu press briefing called by Mrs. Arroyo herself among members of the Malacañang Press Corp, she admitted they have a copy of the NPA hit list and that it included Kintanar.

"Yes, it's true that we have a copy of the (NPA) hit list and that Kintanar was in there.

We have already implemented security measures to members of my Cabinet who were in that hit-list, but I don't think I could share it to you, otherwise the assassins would know how to address this. It's very important that we take care of these threats in specific individuals," the President said.

It was not confirmed whether First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo was also on the list, considering an earlier threat made by NPA leader Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal to subject him to a trial before the communist people's court due to his alleged involvement in several graft and corruption cases.

According to Rosal, they had sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Arroyo in their court because of his alleged role in a number of anomalies involving billions of pesos.

He said the First Gentleman must be tried in the people's court because the public had already lost trust and confidence in the country's justice system, which he believed was working for the interest and protection of the First Couple.

Mrs. Arroyo said the assassination plans were a manifestation of deep division in the society that needed to be immediately addressed.

"This is the reason I have created a government of national unity that is embodied in the Council of State which I signed. With this EO (executive order on Council of State), I hope to have more dialogues among the citizens of this country mired with great division," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, stressed the intensified operation by the government against the NPA would not affect the peace talks it is pursuing with the National Democratic Front.

"It would not affect the peace talks. Though they (NPA) were labeled as terrorists, the peace talks can still push through just like the US who were conducting peace talks with the Palestinian Liberation Authority that were also labeled as terrorist," she averred.

Tiglao, meanwhile, said he could not understand why he was included in the NPA hit list despite his intention to adhere to the principle of serving the country.

"In my four years of fighting a dictatorship, two of which were in Marcos prisons, in more than two decades in journalism and in more than a year of service in government, I have not sought wealth nor power, but only adhered to the principle of serving our people," he stressed.

"I had joined government in the belief that the path to progress is to strengthen the Filipino nation-state so it may serve the people, not destroy it. The road to liberation cannot be over the graves of our fellow Filipinos. I do not think such principles are grounds for a murder order issued against me, as reported by our intelligence services, allegedly by the Communist Party. No human deserves to be murdered for his convictions, for believing in peace, not fratricide."

Apparently threatened, Tiglao called on CPP leaders including Jose Ma. Sison and Ka Roger, to publicly declare he is not included in the hit list.

He said he and Kintanar had spent their best years in life building up the NPA for the good of the people.

"Be as it may, I refuse to be terrorized and I am more than willing to fight and die for our nation," Tiglao averred.

Ople, on the other hand, belittled the NPA's threat of assassination.

"I'm not going to be intimidated by this reported threats," he said, adding he would not ask for additional personal security.

"No, that is not necessary (but) I take (this threat) in stride as part of the price that must be paid for being in public service," Ople told reporters in a chance interview.

The DFA chief believes his successful effort to convince the European Union to declare the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organization is one of the reasons for the assassination threat against him and other members of the Arroyo Cabinet.

As this developed, a former henchman of Kintanar was gunned down in Calumpit, Bulacan yesterday morning.

The victim was identified as Louie Reyes, a former NPA hitman who was then under Kintanar. He died on the spot after two suspected communist rebels shot him around 8 a.m.

All rights reserved