Duterte restores truce
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday reimposed the short-lived unilateral ceasefire that he declared last month after communist insurgents declared their own truce as both sides set the stage for a resumption of peace talks in Norway this week.
Mr. Duterte’s move followed a unilateral ceasefire declaration by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), on Friday night.
But unlike the insurgents’ seven-day truce, which starts after midnight today, the government ceasefire “will last as long as necessary to bring peace in the land and also in order to provide the enabling environment for the success of the peace negotiations,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said at a news conference at Ninoy Aquino International Airport before leaving for Oslo on Saturday.
The government ceasefire also starts after midnight Sunday.
The gestures usher in five days of talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the CPP, in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
The talks start Monday and close on Friday.
The Norwegian government is brokering the negotiations to help try to end the 47-year-old communist insurgency that has claimed more than 30,000 lives and impoverished swaths of the Philippines.
Dureza said President Duterte “restored” the unilateral ceasefire that he announced during his maiden address to Congress on July 25.
The operational guidelines of the ceasefire for the military, the police and other security forces of the government would also be restored, Dureza said.
“Our citizens deserve no less. They wish to live peaceful lives bereft of the costs and tragic consequences of conflict and violence,” he added.
He said that with the ceasefire, he was hoping for an early resolution of the conflict.
“The enabling environment brought about by this ‘silencing of guns’ will hopefully go a long way in bringing about an expeditious and early resolution to our differences and aspirations that have long divided us as a people,” he said.
The military suspended operations against the NPA yesterday following the announcement of the government ceasefire, said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Mr. Duterte withdrew the unilateral ceasefire on July 30, after the NPA killed a militiaman in an ambush and the CPP failed to declare its own truce.
The failure triggered an exchange of harsh words between him and CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, although preparations for the resumption of peace talks continued.
Mr. Duterte and the communist leader had since patched things up.
Malacañang yesterday hailed the communist insurgents’ truce declaration, saying the government was looking forward to ending the four-decade-long conflict.
“The President has already walked an extra mile for peace. He is glad that the CPP/NPA/NDFP showed a similar gesture of goodwill as a sign of sincerity to the peace process on the eve of our talks in Oslo, Norway,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.
Andanar said he had high hopes that the talks, the first in four years, would be successful.
“We therefore feel optimistic that the mutual efforts of both sides would lead to fruitful negotiations that could pave the way for substantive discussions in the hope of putting an end to one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said he hoped the ceasefire would last longer than a week.
“Peace, even if temporary, should have a validity period longer than a cell-phone load,” Recto said in a statement.
At this point, the one-week ceasefire of the communists could be classified as “symbolic,” he said.
“What the people want is peace that is sustained. Hopefully, that will be the end result of the peace talks,” he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan lauded the Duterte administration’s peace initiatives, saying he hoped for an end to the insurgency with the release of political prisoners and the declaration of a ceasefire.
“We recognize the President’s personal appreciation of the root causes of conflict between Filipino rebels and Filipino soldiers: poverty and injustice,” Pangilinan said.
“Peace is both an end and a means. Peace is the result and the way to progress. When the guns are silent, much work against poverty and injustice can be accomplished,” he added.
The government released top CPP leader Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma, on Friday to allow them to take part in the resumption of peace talks in Oslo.
Mr. Duterte had promised to work for the release of other NDFP consultants so they could participate in the negotiations.
Edre Olalia, legal adviser to the NDFP, yesterday said that as of Friday, 17 consultants had been released.
At the airport news conference yesterday, Dureza gave assurance that the government was exerting effort to make available to the Oslo talks as many NDFP consultants as possible.
NPA captives to be freed
In response, communist guerrillas were preparing to release seven captives—six policemen and a civilian police office worker.
In the Caraga region, NDFP spokesperson Maria Malaya said yesterday that the release of five “prisoners of war” captured by the NPA in Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur provinces “signifies the revolutionary movement’s serious intent in pursuing peace talks” with the government.
In Northern Mindanao, set to be freed were PO1 Richard Vaz Yu, who was snatched by NPA guerrillas in Barangay San Vicente in Carmen, Surigao del Sur, on July 5; PO2 Caleb Sinaca, PO3 Jayroll Bagayas and civilian Rodrigo Angob, who were abducted in Barangay Cagtinae in Malimono, Surigao del Norte, on July 24.
In Southern Mindanao, the NPA was set to free two policemen captured in May and June.
Rubi del Mundo, NDFP spokesperson in the region, said the front had ordered the NPA to free Chief Insp. Arnold Ongachen, who was captured in Governor Generoso in Davao Oriental province on May 29, and PO1 Michael Grande, who was taken in Lupon, also in Davao Oriental, on June 19.
Del Mundo said the NDFP acknowledged President Duterte’s efforts to release the front’s consultants.
The NDFP, she said, was awaiting the release of more than 500 “political prisoners” being held in prisons across the country. With reports from Kristine Felisse Mangunay and Jaymee T. Gamil; Chris Panganiban and Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao; and AP and AFP/TVJ
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