Communist insurgents on Wednesday called off a truce with the government, almost two weeks ahead of its proposed end, raising concerns about the future of the peace talks between the two sides.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) blamed the government for the collapse of the holiday truce, saying that President Aquino had failed to issue an order reciprocating their offer to extend the ceasefire to Jan.15. It also accused the military of not observing the truce and pointed to the arrest of seven suspected rebels during the ceasefire.
A CPP statement said “The ceasefire has been cut short and will end today (Jan. 2) at 12 midnight.”
Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, on the other hand, said the CPP’s accusation was baseless, stressing that the government sincerely intended to honor the ceasefire until Jan. 15, as it announced on its website.
Secretary Lacierda said the rebels probably found that an extended ceasefire would be “detrimental” to them so they chose to cut it short and blame the government.
Southern Philippines military spokesperson Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza accused the CPP’s military arm, the New People’s Army, of violating the ceasefire on Monday and Tuesday when guerillas reportedly descended on villages in the outskirts of Davao City and briefly held two government militiamen and three civilians hostage.
Rebel and government representatives agreed on a ceasefire from Dec. 20 to Jan. 15 in a meeting in The Hague in the Netherlands. The “rebel” group also declared a truce in areas devastated by Typhoon Pablo until Jan. 3, while the military declared a holiday ceasefire from Dec. 16 to Jan. 2.
Intent to respect
“In so far as the government is concerned, we have honored the ceasefire,” Lacierda said. He pointed out that Secretary Ronald Llamas and Undersecretary Alex Padilla signed the joint statement with the CPP panel in The Hague to show the government’s intent to respect the truce.
“The AFP was informed of the ceasefire so there was no reason for it to allege that in the absence of a presidential directive, we did not honor the ceasefire. In fact, we did,” he said.
“We relayed it to the AFP, we relayed it to the media, [and] we relayed it to the public. That is the extent of our sincerity. We had no reason not to honor the ceasefire,” he said.
Lacierda said the rebel group had always made excuses to avoid resuming the peace talks with the government, and this could be one.
“Now they’re coming up with other stumbling blocks to peace,” he said.
But Marco Valbuena, spokesperson for the CPP, said the rebel forces had reason to doubt the government’s sincerity.
“The Aquino regime’s nonadherence to the temporary ceasefire agreement is a serious act of contempt against the peace negotiations supported and facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government,” Valbuena said.
He said the failure of the ceasefire also “casts doubt on the authority and status of his special representatives and negotiating panel—Llamas and Padilla.
“Over the past two weeks, there has been practically no ceasefire on the part of the AFP as it continued to carry out military operations against suspected revolutionaries and communities suspected of being active in the revolutionary struggle,” he said, citing the “nonremoval of so-called ‘peace and development teams’ deployed to rural communities” and the setting up of more checkpoints “to restrict the people’s movements, especially before and after the CPP’s 44th anniversary on Dec. 26 to prevent people from attending assemblies and (putting under surveillance) those coming from the activities.”
“The AFP also arrested at least seven persons during its own ceasefire period, including five farmers on Dec. 21 in Mulanay, Quezon. On Dec. 25, the AFP arrested Filemon Mendrez in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental. The military likewise arrested on Dec. 28 Rene Esmondo Abiva in Bagumbayan, Tuguegarao City. The AFP claimed Mendez and Abiva were leaders of the revolutionary movement,” Valbuena said.
Just a day before the ceasefire collapsed, the government’s chief peace negotiator said he was confident about the resumption of the peace process, citing the successful holiday truce.
Valbuena, however, said that because the CPP doubted the government’s sincerity, Padilla’s optimism on the resumption of the talks may not happen any time soon. TJ Burgonio, Germelina Lacorte and Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP