Duterte declares Dec. 24-Jan.2 truce with NPA
President Duterte has declared a ceasefire from Christmas through the New Year with communist rebels as a “gesture of goodwill,” a month after canceling peace talks and designating the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), terrorist organizations.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday said the President ordered the unilateral suspension of combat operations against the rebels from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, 2018.
Mr. Duterte’s decision reflected the contrasting moves the volatile leader has taken to deal with the communist insurgency, one of the most protracted in Asia. The CPP will mark its 49th anniversary on Dec. 26.
“This unilateral ceasefire would lessen the apprehension of the public this Christmas season. We expect that the CPP-NPA-NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) would do a similar gesture of goodwill,” Roque said in the statement.
“Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of our countrymen. In the observance of this occasion, we hope that all Filipinos would stand together as one nation and aspire for peace in our beloved Philippines,” he added.
There was no immediate response from the CPP-NPA or the NDFP, which represented the rebels in the canceled talks.
Welcome with caution
Edre Olalia, a legal consultant for the NDFP, said in a statement that “we can welcome with abundance of caution the unilateral declaration of ceasefire by the Philippine government.”
“This declaration is not totally unexpected though. But it is especially curious because it comes at the heels of the rebel movement’s standing openness to declare its own (ceasefire) even before the government has apparently stolen the thunder to make it appear that the latter is magnanimous despite incessant vicious and outrageous words against the former,” Olalia said.
CPP founder and NDFP political consultant Jose Maria Sison described the government ceasefire as a “gimmick and deception” against which the NPA would always be on alert.
Speaking to reporters in Pasig City on Tuesday night, Mr. Duterte hinted that he would declare a ceasefire, but “not addressed to the NPAs.”
“Rather, I would want to celebrate Christmas with the rest of humankind or Filipinos without stress,” the President said.
“They might say, ‘There’s no ceasefire now there might be shooting.’ Then you put a lot of strain on the people. I will think about it. That would be my primary consideration. I do not declare ceasefires anymore with anybody,” he said.
The President said a ceasefire was “a unilateral action of [the] government to refrain from attacking.”
“A lot of people are going around, even at night, enjoying Christmas Day or whatever … going to Mass,” he said. “I do not want to add more strain to what people are now suffering.”
Roque had dismissed as late as Sunday a possible holiday truce, saying the rebels were “notorious for treacherous attacks even when there were unilateral ceasefires in the past during which we have lost scores of our brave defenders.”
Defense chief surprised
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had refused to recommend a ceasefire, said he was surprised by the announcement.
“Last night? Where did he say that?” was Lorenzana’s immediate reply when asked for comment on the President’s decision.
“I was actually adamant. I didn’t want it. I didn’t recommend [a] cessation of military operations against the CPP-NPA,” he told reporters. “But if the President declares so, then we are going to implement and abide by the directive of the President.”
This was not the first time that the government’s top defense official was caught unaware of Mr. Duterte’s announcements and decisions that impacted national security.
Last year, Lorenzana admitted at congressional budget hearings that Mr. Duterte did not consult the Cabinet security cluster on such decisions as terminating joint military training exercises with the United States and plans to abrogate the country’s defense treaties with the United States.
The prospects of a peace deal with the communist rebels appeared high when Mr. Duterte pursued peace negotiations brokered by Norway and appointed left-wing activists to a number of Cabinet posts when he took power last year.
The government freed several communist leaders as a gesture of good faith to push the talks, but he canceled the negotiations last month and formally designated the CPP and the 3,800-member NPA as “terrorist organizations” following continued rebel attacks.
If approved by a court, the CPP-NPA would be the second group to be proscribed under a 2007 antiterror law after the Abu Sayyaf, a brutal Moro extremist group that was blacklisted in 2015 for involvement in ransom kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
A Catholic priest and indigenous peoples’ rights advocate welcomed the President’s ceasefire declaration and urged the rebels to reciprocate the gesture.
“Thanks to President Duterte. God is really powerful and he loves the Philippines,” said Fr. Pete Montallana, coordinator of Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate of the Diocese of Infanta in Quezon province.
Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the ceasefire was meant to benefit the military and police, not the rebels.
Appeal to NPA
“It is for the soldiers and policemen whom [the President] wants to enjoy the Christmas, so they can experience Christmas with their families,” Dela Rosa said.
Local civilian and military officials in Southern Mindanao welcomed the President’s decision even as they urged the insurgents to also declare a truce “so the people can celebrate a peaceful Christmas.”
“We welcome this in the name of peace and will ensure that our units will abide by whatever is the directive regarding this,” Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, told the Inquirer. —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKO DIZON, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., FRINSTON LIM, AFP, AP
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