MANILA, Philippines — Philippine military officials say a communist guerrilla leader and spokesman has been arrested while being secretly treated for high blood pressure in a hospital in an upscale residential and shopping district in suburban Manila.
Military officials said Tuesday that army troops and police arrested Jaime Padilla, who uses the nom de guerre Ka Diego, and three men who were guarding him Monday night in a room at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in the Greenhills district of San Juan city. President Rodrigo Duterte has been to the same hospital in the past for medical tests.
Padilla, who is in his 60s and known for his trademark Maoist rebel cap, has given interviews in the past to journalists in his mountain jungle camp southeast of Manila where young Marxist guerrillas marched and displayed their weapons in front of photographers and TV cameras.
The communist insurgency has continued in the Philippines for more than 50 years, making it one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. Battle setbacks, surrenders and infighting, however, have weakened the guerrilla group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and remains a key Philippine security threat.
The rebellion has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the military says about 3,500 insurgents are still active.
Aside from serving as a regional rebel spokesman, Padilla is also a ranking regional guerrilla leader and a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Maj. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.
Padilla’s arrest is a “decisive blow to the communist terrorists for it will result to further demoralization among their ranks brought about by a leadership vacuum, thus, further pushing them to the brink of collapse,” Burgos said.
Metropolitan Manila police chief Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas said the three men arrested with Padilla will be charged with harboring a fugitive. He said investigators are checking whether they also belong to the New People’s Army, the communist party’s armed wing.
Padilla has been charged with four counts of murder in at least one case in the past, officials said.
Communist guerrillas condemned Padilla’s arrest, which they said in a statement would endanger his life because he was being treated for a serious heart ailment in the hospital.
Duterte, who calls himself a socialist, initially pursued peace talks with the guerrillas but later protested continued insurgent attacks on government forces, while the guerrillas accused troops of violating the government’s own cease-fire by continuing combat operations in what they said were their rural strongholds.
Duterte later terminated peace negotiations with the guerrillas brokered by Norway. He has suggested from time to time that he is ready to resume the talks if the guerrillas halt attacks and their collection of what they call “revolutionary taxes” from businesses but the military calls extortion.