Duterte terminates ceasefire with Reds
MLANG, North Cotabato—Saying he does not expect peace with communist rebels “during our generation,” President Duterte lifted the government’s unilateral ceasefire on Thursday night because the rebels insisted on “impossible” demands and launched attacks on government troops.
“I am asking the soldiers, go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight,”
Mr. Duterte said in a speech at the launching of a solar-powered irrigation project in this town in North Cotabato province.
The lifting of the government ceasefire declaration comes a week ahead of the Feb. 10 termination of the rebels’ own unilateral ceasefire.
The Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA) on Wednesday canceled their ceasefire declaration, saying the Duterte administration reneged on its promise to release political prisoners and the military violated its own truce.
Mr. Duterte said the rebels wanted him to release 400 political prisoners, which would require a general amnesty that he could not decide on his own. He said the rebel demands were “just too huge that it is impossible to meet, or even work out a compromise.”
He said he had already conceded too much, citing the release of detained rebel leaders so they could participate in peace talks.
The President did not say whether he would call off the Norway-brokered peace talks, which his administration reopened in August after being stalled for five years.
There have been three rounds of formal talks, with the most recent ending last week in Italy with no ceasefire agreement.
Representatives of the two peace panels tasked to discuss a possible bilateral ceasefire were scheduled to meet in the Netherlands later this month, but there was no immediate word if that would push through after Mr. Duterte’s announcement.
Describing himself as part of the Left, Mr. Duterte said his administration would have been the “golden opportunity” for the talks to end nearly 50 years of insurgency, one of the longest-running in the world.
“If it won’t end, then OK, but let it not be said that I did not try,” he said. “I guess that peace with the communists cannot be realized during our generation.”
Mr. Duterte said several soldiers had been killed even before the termination of the NPA’s ceasefire next Friday.
“I think to continue with the ceasefire does not or will not produce anything,” he said.
The military chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Año, said at least six soldiers had been killed by the guerrillas, who abducted two others.
‘Hit them hard’
“We will go after the NPA to prevent them from conducting atrocities and criminal activities against the public. And we will hit them hard,” Año said.
The rebels disputed the military’s account of recent clashes, particularly in Mindanao, and urged Mr. Duterte and the government peace panel to investigate the incidents.
NPA Southern Mindanao spokesperson Rigoberto Sanchez accused the military of feeding the President and the government panel with lies “to conceal their own ceasefire violation.”
He said clashes in Makilala and Matalam in North Cotabato, and in Manay, Davao Oriental, where a young Army officer was killed on Wednesday, were not initiated by the NPA.
The encounters erupted because the military entered NPA areas in the guise of “anticriminality operations to assist the Philippine National Police in going after lawless elements,” Sanchez said.
The termination of the ceasefire declarations has worried members of the Northern Mindanao Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC).
“We hope that both sides of the peace panel could find the solutions that would break the impasse that led to such declaration,” said Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno, the RPOC chair.
Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente said he hoped “that there is no cessation of the talks even if it seems difficult at the moment to realize a cessation of hostilies.”
Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, who chairs the committee on peace, reconciliation and unity, said she was “more concerned with its immediate impact on the ground, particularly in conflict-affected areas.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, the vice chair of the committee on peace, said the lifting of the unilateral ceasefire declarations should push both panels “to further expedite the talks to finally address the roots of the armed conflict.”
Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, the spokesperson for the National Operations Command of the NPA, said they still support the peace process.
Human rights lawyer Edre Olalia, a legal consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panel, said the peace negotiations “can continue while they are fighting.”
“There is peace negotiations precisely because there is an armed conflict,” he said. “Parties have continued talking while they are fighting as before. In fact, major agreements in peace negotiations were forged even without ceasefire.”
The withdrawal of the unilateral ceasefire declarations also “highlights the need for the parties to come up with a more stable, sincere and principled bilateral ceasefire,” he said.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, head of the government panel, expressed the same sentiments and had hoped the recent talks in Italy would produce a ceasefire agreement.
He said the separate ceasefire declarations had not worked because there were no agreed guidelines and clear terms which would have served as a basis for complaints of truce violations.
Bello also said the government would ask the United Sates to remove communist party founder Jose Maria Sison from Washington’s list of terrorists, but the US government seems to have rejected the request. —REPORTS FROM KARLOS MANLUPIG, ALLAN NAWAL, WILLIAMOR MAGBANUA, JEOFFREY MAITEM, LEILA SALAVERRIA, JEROME ANING AND THE WIRES
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