The Philippines yesterday braced for retaliatory strikes by communist insurgents after their party leader was arrested in the Netherlands on suspicion of ordering the murders of former allies.
Security forces were placed on heightened alert to thwart attacks from the 7,000-strong New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), officials said.
While there was no direct threat against Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, her elite security unit was also on full alert as militant groups sympathetic to the insurgents protested in Manila's Makati financial district.
"It is better to be on the cautious side rather than be sorry later," armed forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon told reporters.
He said the arrest on Tuesday of CPP chief Jose Maria Sison in the Netherlands was a "big boost for our internal security operations" because it would cut him off from communicating with his forces on the ground.
News of Sison's arrest broke on Tuesday as Arroyo was meeting with her top security advisers and senior Cabinet officials.
Arroyo said the arrest was a "giant step toward peace."
Dutch police arrested Sison for allegedly giving orders from his residence in the Netherlands to have two of his former associates killed.
The two men, Arturo Tabara and Romulo Kintanar -- who had split with Sison's NPA for ideological reasons -- were gunned down in separate gangland-style attacks in 2003 and last year.
The NPA has been waging a Maoist rebellion against the authorities in Manila since 1969, in one of Asia's longest running communist insurgencies.
It is classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the US and the EU.
Sison's arrest comes one month after the CPP rejected an offer of a three-year ceasefire to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks stalled since August 2004.
Chief communist negotiator Fidel Agcaoili condemned Sison's arrest, adding that Dutch police also raided the office of the party's political front.
"The arrest of professor Sison and the raids conducted are bound to terminate the ongoing peace negotiations," he said.
He said NPA cadres would "continue to intensify their resistance against the illegitimate, unjust, corrupt and barbaric Arroyo regime."