Reds ready to silence guns again
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said on Saturday it was preparing to declare a unilateral ceasefire again more than a month after President Duterte angrily scrapped peace negotiations after a rebel attack left at least three soldiers dead in the South.
The CPP said the declaration of its own ceasefire was part of “confidence-building measures” as both sides prepared to resume formal peace talks next month, following back-channel negotiations in Europe recently.
The CPP said its ceasefire could come next week or anytime before the end of March.
The government and the CPP’s political National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) were set to resume the peace talks in The Netherlands on April 2-6.
“The CPP looks forward to a similar unilateral ceasefire declaration by the (government) as mutually agreed upon in the March 10-11 back-channel talks,” the CPP said in a statement. “The CPP urges the Duterte regime to order the (Armed Forces) to slow down its ongoing all-out offensive military operations and aerial bombing and shelling campaigns against rural barangays, to help create a favorable atmosphere for the mutual ceasefire.”
The CPP said it also anticipated the release of 19 political prisoners, as well as the recently rearrested NDFP consultants.
But speaking to reporters in the southern province of Bukidnon on Saturday, Mr. Duterte said he would consult his national security advisers as well as the military and police about reciprocating the rebels’ truce.
No absolute decision
“There is no thing as an absolute decision especially if it involves the interest of the country,” he said.
He stressed that if the rebels did not follow its own ceasefire, then it “will just be an aberration in (the) system of talking about peace.”
He recalled that last month, the rebels’ armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), ambushed and killed soldiers even before it terminated its own ceasefire. One soldier was even shot at least 70 times.
Mr. Duterte also rejected the rebels’ claim that government forces had encroached in an NPA-controlled territory, which he dismissed as a “pretext to ambush my soldiers.”
“We would have nothing to talk about if that’s the case,” he warned, reiterating the government’s demand for the rebels to release government forces still in captivity, as well as immediately stop its extortion activities. He also demanded that the rebels sign a ceasefire agreement, with clear parameters.
In a show of faith, the NPA freed on Friday two militiamen they snatched in Lupon, Davao Oriental, in February.
But the release of Rene Doller, 34, and Carl Mark Nucos, 24, were dampened by news of fresh clashes in two central Mindanao areas. At least four policemen and soldiers remain in captivity by various NPA units in Mindanao.
In Antipas, North Cotabato, a four-hour firefight between soldiers and the NPA erupted on Friday. The guerrillas held over two dozen civilians but later let them go.
Attack in Cotabato
“The military is still in the village to conduct clearing operations. The evacuees are all safe in our designated evacuation centers in the town proper,” Antipas police commander Chief Insp. Rolanda Dillera said.
In Tampakan town in South Cotabato, 50 rebels attacked a paramilitary detachment, triggering a firefight but no immediate reports of casualties, police said.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza is to meet with Mr. Duterte on Monday before he flies to The Netherlands ahead of the formal resumption of peace talks.
“There are certain considerations we have to deal with given the President’s trajectory on how to achieve peace. His strategies do not jibe with the pervious road map,” he said in a phone interview.
He said he was optimistic going into the talks, but warned that an agreement would not come overnight.
“We don’t have a magic formula,” Dureza said. —WITH REPORTS FROM ALLAN NAWAL, JEOFFREY MAITEM, KARLOS MANLUPIG, EDWIN FERNANDEZ AND WILLIAMOR MAGBANUA
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