Aquino Says Arrests Of Senior Communists Should Quiet Her Critics
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino said today that the arrests of 20 senior members of the outlawed Communist Party should silence critics of her anti-insurgency program.
Human rights groups contended the arrests could be part of a campaign to stifle political dissent.
The military said 26 people were taken into custody during a series of raids Wednesday and Thursday in Manila suburbs and the nearby province of Laguna.
Those arrested included two members of the party’s central committee and two Roman Catholic priests. Relatives of the party members were to be released today.
It was the largest number of rebel leaders captured in a single operation since Mrs. Aquino took office in February 1986. The arrests followed her calls for a crackdown on the party and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.
Chief of Staff Gen. Renato de Villa said the military believed the rebels may have gathered in Manila to plan an operation. Rebel assassination squads have been blamed for the murders of six policemen in the Manila area in the last two weeks.
A Manila newspaper, the Evening Star, quoted military sources it did not identify as saying intelligence agents learned of the rebels’ whereabouts by cracking their communications code.
″The arrest of the 20 known, ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines in a series of military raids in Metro Manila should answer once and for all the criticism that the government has no insurgency program,″ Mrs. Aquino said in a statement.
Last month, Rafael Ileto resigned as defense minister claiming his proposals for reorganizing the military and combating the 19-year communist insurgency were ignored.
Lt. Col. Jose Sayam, whose troops made the arrests, described them as ″the biggest achievement of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in terms of anti-insurgency.″
Lt. Severino Cruz, who took part in the raids, told reporters they followed four days and three nights of surveillance ″with the help of civilians.″
Troops seized weapons, ammunition, sophisticated radio and computer equipment as well as books on rebel movements in Vietnam and El Salvador.
Sayam said the radio equipment may have been used in clandestine broadcasts last Saturday and once in December.
Five of the most senior party officials arrested were presented to reporters at a military garrison today but were not allowed to make statements. They included Tomas Dominado, the Rev. Rustico Tan, the Rev. Nicholas Ruiz, Alberto Davide, and Noli Narca.
Dominado and Ruiz are believed to be members of the party’s central committee. Tan served as a negotiator in Cebu during last year’s 60-day cease- fire and peace talks.
In announcing the arrests, Chief of Staff Gen. Renato de Villa told reporters Thursday that troops also found lists of the party’s financial sources in the Philippines and abroad but gave no further details.
He said troops also found medical supplies in what appeared to be three field hospitals where wounded rebels were treated.
″I believe this will create a major disruption″ of the communist insurgency nationwide, de Villa said. ″This is a major blow.″
The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates said it viewed the arrests ″with alarm,″ claiming they could be a pretext for a crackdown on dissent.
″The raids come at a time when concerted efforts by conservative elements within the military and the hierarchy of the church against leftist peoples’ organizations including several human rights groups are in a high pitch,″ the alliance said in a statement.
″Such military actions, with all the confusion going on, can easily be a pretext for stifling legitimate dissent.″
Another human rights group, the Task Force-Detainees, said an average of 4,578 people have been arrested annually for political activity during the Aquino administration, compared with a yearly average of 2,378 during the last eight years of President Ferdinand Marcos’ rule.
Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila, told reporters Thursday that Philippine bishops decided to dissolve the church’s social action organization because it was ″highly infiltrated″ by communists and suspected of diverting money to the rebels.
He said employees of the National Secretariat of Social Action were investigated last year following reports that money from West Germany, the Netherlands and other European nations sent to it for social projects were ″being used to buy weapons and to develop the NPA.″