Gov’t truce with NPA shortened
Malacañang on Thursday shortened the period covered by the government’s unilateral holiday ceasefire with communist rebels as it dismissed the claim of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison that the temporary truce was a sham.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the first of the two-part ceasefire would hold from 6 p.m. on Dec. 23 until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 26 and the second, from 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 2.
On Wednesday, Roque announced that President Duterte had ordered a suspension of combat operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, surprising Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was against a holiday truce.
The 3,800-strong NPA is the armed wing of the CPP, which will mark its 49th founding anniversary on Dec. 26.
NPA word awaited
Roque said the President was “hopeful” that the communist rebels would also declare a truce.
“If not, then it will prove what he has been saying all along that the NPA [is] treacherous. So, the ball is in the court of the NPA,” he said.
The rebels have not responded to the government’s unilateral ceasefire, which followed Mr. Duterte’s decision last month to scrap the peace talks to end nearly five decades of communist insurgency and later to designate the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations.
Reacting to the unilateral ceasefire declaration, Sison on Thursday said it was “probably a sham.” He earlier said it was just a “gimmick and deception” against which the NPA would always be on alert.
“We leave it to the people to conclude how we should react to that statement of Joma Sison,” Roque said in response.
“If Joma Sison did not feel any spirit of Christmas because of the (ceasefire declaration), well, I feel sorry for him,” he said. “That’s what happens when you’re not here in the Philippines anyway.”
Sison, the chief political consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in the peace talks, has lived in exile in the Netherlands since 1987.
Roque said the President declared the unilateral ceasefire so Filipinos could have “less things to worry about because Christmas is a time for celebration.”
It was the President’s “prerogative” and part of his executive powers to change his mind about the period to be covered by the ceasefire, according to Roque.
He said government forces could still apprehend NPA members despite a halt in combat operations.
“Make no mistake about it, we will not fire but if fired upon, of course, the Armed Forces has every right to defend itself,” he said.
Addressing the NPA in a statement on Thursday, the Department of National Defense (DND) urged “those who are waging war against our sovereign government and inflicting harm on the Filipino people to spend this period in reflection and seriously reconsider returning to the fold of law.”
The DND reminded government troops to maintain their vigilance and safety during the ceasefire and called on citizens to cooperate with security forces.
Catalino Cuy, the officer in charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, said the President’s ceasefire declaration would give police officers and their families “greater peace of mind” during the holidays.
Cuy, however, directed the Philippine National Police to keep its guard up. —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKO DIZON AND JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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