, AUGUST 25, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero – President Arroyo ordered yesterday the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to craft “a strategy of rapid conclusion” to the armed communist rebellion, the separatist insurgencies, and “sheer terrorism” within three years.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the order during the closing ceremonies of the Local Peace and Security Assembly (LPSA) for Central Visayas here, where she also announced that she will lead a National Security Council (NSC) meeting on Aug. 28 to craft an urgent bill granting amnesty to communist rebels.

She said the LPSA, attended by local officials from the region, security officials and representatives from various sectors, was held “to declare our resolve to defeat terror and rout the enemies of democracy.”

“The Armed Forces must evolve a strategy of rapid conclusion to address armed rebellion with the NSC providing direction on communist insurgency, Muslim secessionism, and sheer terrorism,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“I am very happy that local officials and other stakeholders agreed with my specified timeline – three years – to end armed rebellion in the Philippines,” she said.

She said the New People’s Army (NPA) has been a low-level threat for the last 39 years but still managed to impede development in a number of rural areas aside from being responsible for a wide range of human rights abuses.

“If we are to become a first world country, we have to put a stop to their ideological nonsense and their criminal acts once and for all. It’s either we get rid of them now or get rid of them later. Whatever happens, they must be stopped,” she said.

She noted the meeting was held in Bohol, where Francisco Dagohoy led the longest revolt against the Spanish occupation in the Philippines, and the Boholanos “did not take savagery sitting down and instead, they fought back.”

Bohol has been the hotbed of the NPA insurgency but the rebels’ numbers have dropped dramatically from four communist fronts to two in the last two years, or down to 40 armed regulars due to peace initiatives of the local government, officials said.

“We will not stop until bandits find no more nook to hide in the land they have blighted, and no sanctuary to seek from people they have terrorized and used as shields,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She however stressed the government does not and will never use “the bloody means terrorists employ to compel forced obedience to their obsolete ideas and outrageous demands.”

Mrs. Arroyo said while the Armed Forces must have the support of the people, it must also support initiatives of local officials for peace and should not be swayed by divisive propaganda of political opponents.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said the matter of granting amnesty to communist rebels has been discussed in the Cabinet for quite some time already owing to successes in some provinces like Bohol.

He said the NSC meeting will try to come up with a priority measure to be submitted to Congress for approval.

“I’m sure many rebels are tired of fighting for an evil cause,” Gonzales said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved