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Gov’t, Reds declare holiday ceasefire

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday night ordered a “unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire” after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) directed all fighting forces of its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to stand down once the government declared a truce for the holiday season.

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Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced the government’s ceasefire declaration, which will take effect from midnight on Monday until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 7.

The President, Panelo said, also ordered the Department of National Defense, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police “to issue an official declaration” to all armed units and agents for them to observe the truce.

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Panelo said Duterte also ordered the reconstitution of the government’s peace negotiating panel, with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea among its members.

Peace talks

With the ceasefire declaration and the reconstitution of the peace panel, Panelo said the administration looked forward to a resumption of negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the umbrella organization of the local communist movement.

Earlier on Sunday, the CPP directed all NPA units to halt offensives against state security forces once the government declared a ceasefire for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The rebels’ ceasefire will also take effect on midnight Monday and end at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 7.On Saturday, government and rebel negotiators meeting in Utrecht, the Netherlands, recommended the declaration of a holiday truce as a confidence-building measure for the resumption of peace talks.

The two panels announced their recommendations through a joint statement signed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Hernani Braganza for the government, Luis Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoili for the NDFP, and Kristina Lie Revheim for Norway, which is brokering peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the communist rebels.

“The ceasefire [orders] are intended to generate a positive environment conducive to the holding of informal talks preparatory to the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations,” the parties said in the statement.

“These shall be measures of goodwill and confidence building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays,” they said.

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Last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they would not recommend a ceasefire with the NPA for the holiday season.

Lorenzana said a ceasefire with the insurgents only placed the military at a disadvantage. The rebels, he said, went on committing atrocities and recruiting fighters while government forces remained in the barracks.

Bomb attack

Last week, suspected communist rebels carried out a bomb attack in Borongan City, Eastern Samar, killing a policeman and a 69-year-old woman.

Earlier, security officials claimed Mr. Duterte was on the NPA’s hit list, and that two high-ranking rebels who had been sent to liquidate him were killed in Quezon City.

Panelo, however, said CPP founder Jose Maria Sison had denied that the insurgents were out to kill the President.

“The information that our colleagues received was false. The other party has denied it,” Panelo said.

Earlier on Sunday, the PNP said it was awaiting the President’s decision on the truce recommendations.

But Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, spokesperson for the PNP, said in a radio interview that police forces would be on high alert during the holidays, especially during the CPP anniversary celebration on Dec. 26.

Duterte scrapped peace talks with the communist rebels in 2017, citing the rebels’ insincerity and repeated attacks on government troops despite ongoing negotiations.

Another chance

In March, he announced the “permanent termination” of peace talks, but earlier this month he declared that he was giving peace another chance.

Last week, Duterte sent Bello to the Netherlands to initiate talks for fresh negotiations with the communist rebels.

There is support in Congress for a resumption of peace talks. On Thursday, 131 members of the House of Representatives called for “immediate resumption of negotiations” that will lead to “substantive agreements” with the insurgents.

On Sunday, following the announcement of the truce recommendations, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate urged vigilance against “militarists and saboteurs who will do everything to prevent a political, just and lasting solution to the more than five-decade-old armed rebellion in our country.”

“In the past, these saboteurs, especially from the security sector, used undermining schemes like implementation of so-called legitimate police operations against criminals as cover for counterinsurgency operations during the ceasefire period,” Zarate said.

Peace groups in Mindanao welcomed the proposed holiday ceasefire and urged adoption by both the government and the rebels.

In a statement, Balay Mindanaw said the ceasefire was a “very positive step” toward resumption of peace talks between the government and the NDFP.

Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Bert Calang of InPeace Mindanao said a ceasefire would help build confidence in both the government and the rebels to resume peace negotiations.—With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade, DJ Yap and Delfin T. Mallari Jr.

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TAGS: CPP, government peace panel, holiday ceasefire, NPA, Peace Talks, Rodrigo Duterte
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