(File photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday appealed to members of the New People’s Army (NPA) to empathize with local candidates seeking to campaign in rebel-held territories, noting that not all of them could afford to pay them.

In a speech during the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) campaign rally in Agusan del Norte, Duterte asked members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) armed wing to give candidates access to rebel strongholds despite being unable to pay.

Pero ang mga NPA pud unta, ayaw pud ninyo’g sobrahi, unya kanang dili ninyo pakampanyahon kay way kwarta. Bahala'g mangayo mo'g kwarta, kanang naa gyud puy kwarta. Ang problema og maningkamot, making both ends meet para ingnon pa kulang. Ayaw ninyo kaayo'g --- sabta ninyo ba, sabta ninyo (But to the NPAs, don’t go too far, don’t disallow them to campaign if they can’t give you money. It’s fine if you ask money from those who have plenty, but the problem is when they are just struggling to make both ends meet. So don’t go too far, have a little empathy,” he said.

Last year, Duterte warned communist rebels to stay out of the May 9 elections, noting that he would not think twice about using the police and military to ensure orderly polls.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier warned candidates against giving "permit-to-campaign" fees to communist rebels as they will be complicit in their illegal activities.

They said money collected by the communist rebels could be used in the purchase of more firearms and other logistics to sustain their armed struggle.

‘Either dead or old’

Meanwhile, Duterte said there are now fewer NPA activities taking place.

“The NPA is still here but I don’t know their status now that they no longer have an ideology. Wala (No more), all your leaders are either dead or old and all your fronts have been dismantled. Davao is now insurgency-free,” he said.

Last month, the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry "Agila" Division (10ID) said it has cleared Davao City of the presence of the NPA.

Duterte last year credited the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and its regional task forces as having reduced NPA activities. NTF-ELCAC was formed on Dec. 4, 2018, pursuant to Executive Order No. 70.

Duterte, however, acknowledged that insurgency “is still a problem.”

In January, Duterte said the NPA remains a "top threat" aside from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The National Democratic Front has been formally designated as a terrorist organization by the Anti-Terrorism Council on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and inseparable part” of the CPP-NPA created in April 1973. (PNA)