AFP, communist rebels declare Christmas truce
The Philippine military and one of Asia’s remaining communist guerrilla groups on Wednesday said they were ready to call an informal truce over Christmas, bringing some measures of peace to a nation reeling from disasters.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) directed its New People’s Army (NPA) to be vigilant against attacks by security forces during the Dec. 24-26 and Dec. 31-Jan. 2 ceasefire.
Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, said the government would observe its own “suspension of offensive military operations” against the Maoist rebels over the Christmas period, as it had done in previous years.
“We deserve a break during Christmas. This is a very significant, very important holiday for our people especially now after these major disasters,” Bautista told reporters. He did not give specific dates for the effective truce.
Supertyphoon “Yolanda’ left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing when it struck central Philippines on Nov. 8, inflicting some P570 billion worth of damage and leaving 4.4 million people homeless, the government said Wednesday.
The typhoon struck less than four weeks after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Bohol, Cebu and Leyte provinces, killing more than 220 people.
In solidarity with people
“This ceasefire declaration is being issued in solidarity with the Filipino people’s traditional observance of Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” the CPP central committee said in a statement.
It said the NPA forces in the typhoon-devastated islands of Samar and Leyte would not attack government forces until mid-January so both groups could help people displaced by Yolanda.
President Aquino had been aiming to end the rebellion before his six-year term expires in 2016, but the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed.
“It doesn’t matter that peace prospects are dim. This is for the Filipino people,” Bautista said of the truce.
Last year, both protagonists observed close to four weeks of ceasefire, deemed to be the longest Christmas truce between both parties.
The Maoist insurgency has claimed 30,000 lives since 1969 according to government estimates, though its armed force is down to about 4,000 guerrillas from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s.
On Dec. 26, the CPP will celebrate its 45th anniversary.
The CPP said the anniversary would be an opportunity to collect funds “to be contributed to rehabilitation efforts in the areas devastated by the recent Supertyphoon Yolanda.”
It called on Aquino to order the AFP to cease combat offensives against the NPA on Dec. 26 and the days leading to it, to allow allies and sympathizers to peacefully travel to different guerrilla zones and join the celebrations.
AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the military welcomed the rebel announcement of a truce but questioned the limited period covered.
He said the military had already recommended to the national government a longer ceasefire during the Christmas season.
Zagala said of some 4,000 guerrillas nationwide, around 450 were in the area devastated by the typhoon.
The CPP said there would be “people’s assemblies” to be held in NPA-controlled areas across the country during its anniversary.
Local NPA units, barrio revolutionary committees and local revolutionary mass organizations are busy preparing accommodations for thousands of people expected to join the anniversary celebration, the group said.
“Most of the participants are expected to travel by foot to the venues of the people’s assemblies. Travel arrangements are also being made for the revolutionary forces and guests coming in from the cities or other towns,” the CPP said.
It asked journalists and other members of the press who wished to witness the celebrations to get in touch with local CPP branches or local NPA commands.
After an ideological split with a 1930s era pro-Soviet communist party that was defeated by the military in the 1950s, former University of the Philippines teacher Jose Maria Sison set up on Dec. 26, 1968, the revitalized CPP with a Maoist-oriented ideology.
Four months later, the new CPP established the NPA in a remote village in Central Luzon. The first ragtag guerrilla unit was armed with automatic rifles, single-shot rifles and handguns.
By carrying out tactical offensives, primarily through ambush attacks and raids against remote police stations, the rebels were able to accumulate arms for its recruitment, mostly from among the ranks of farmers, workers and student activists.—Reports AFP and AP; Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Nikko Dizon
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