Duterte lifts unilateral ceasefire; orders security forces on “high alert”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 July) —   President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered “the immediate lifting” of the unilateral ceasefire he declared on July 25 against the communist rebels and directed all security forces to be on “high alert and continue to discharge their normal functions and mandate to neutralize all threats to national security, protect the citizenry, enforce the laws and maintain peace in the land.”

Duterte’s three-paragraph order was released by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP) Jesus Dureza at 7 p.m., two hours after the President’s ultimatum to the National Democratic Front (NDF) to reciprocate the ceasefire lapsed.

The President also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) “to also withdraw the operational guidelines they issued in pursuance to that ceasefire declaration.”

PEACE. Members of the New People's Army welcome Davao City Mayor and Presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte upon his arrival to receive Army Private First Class Edgardo Hilaga of the 7th Infantry Battallion in an upland village in Tulunan, North Cotabato on April 26, 2016. Hilaga was freed by the NPA after five days in captivity. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
PEACE. Members of the New People’s Army welcome Davao City Mayor and Presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte upon his arrival in an upland village in Tulunan, North Cotabato  to receive Army Private First Class Edgardo Hilaga of the 7th Infantry Battallion on April 26, 2016. Hilaga was freed by the NPA after five days in captivity. As President, Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire on July 25 and expected the National Democratic Front to reciprocate the order. He lifted it on July 30 after the NDF failed to meet his 5 p.m. deadline to also dclare a ceasefire. MindaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

On Friday, a furious Duterte asked the NDF: “Are you ready to declare a ceasefire or hindi?”

He gave them 24 hours or up to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, to reciprocate the ceasefire. “That’ a good 24 hours. If I don’t get a word from you then I will lift the order of ceasefire,” he said.

Duterte issued the ultimatum late Friday afternoon in the 60th Infantry Battalion’s Camp Morgia in Asuncion, Davao del Norte, after visiting the wake of a CAFGU member slain in an ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Kapalong, Davao del Norte on Wednesday, two days after he declared the unilateral ceasefire.

Panggong Pumanod, a member of the Cafgu Active Auxiliary of the 72nd Infantry Battalion was killed and four others were wounded in the ambush.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, chief of the Division Public Affairs of the 10th Infantry Division, said the Cafgu members were heading back to their camp in Sitio Patil, Gupitan when the ambush occurred.

Aris Francisco, spokesperson of the the NPA’s Comval North Davao South Agusan Sub-regional Command, owned up Wednesday’s ambush of what they claim to be members of the Alamara paramilitary. In a statement dated July 29, Francisco said the military and Cafgu were “clearly on combat operation and not engaged in ‘civilian’ activities, in direct violation to President Duterte’s ceasefire order.”

The government and NDF peace panels are scheduled to hold the first formal peace talks under the Duterte administration on August 20 to 27 in Oslo, Norway.

Asked if the talks will proceed as scheduled, Dureza told MindaNews: “Let’s wait and see. But so far, as of the moment, there is no supervening factor that will affect the upcoming talks in Oslo on August 20.”

Duterte declared the unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25 “to immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks.”

The ceasefire was to take effect immediately. He called on the NDF to “respond accordingly.”

Dialogue

Before Duterte lifting the unilateral ceasefire, peace groups issued statements urging both parties to stay the course.

In a statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), the largest alliance of church federations in the Philippines, urged the NDF to “reciprocate the gesture toward peace by also declaring a unilateral ceasefire to show a common commitment to establish the conditions for the resumption of the formal peace talks.”

The PEPP said it has journeyed with both parties since 2007 and recognizes the challenges of pursuing peace that seeks to address the root causes of the 46-year conflict.

It urged both parties to uphold their determination to continue the pursuit of peace and “not allow mistrust to deter or defeat this new beginning that is providing so much hope to our nation and people.”

The statement, signed by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Rev. Fr. Rex RB Reyes, Jr. of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, Jr. of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, urged government and the NDF to “dialogue on contentious issues that may come along the way.”

“Let our hearts be open to the understanding that we need each other in the pursuit of peace that is the fruit of trust and justice.  Let us remain focused and steadfast in our endeavor,” it added.

Hope

The Cordillera Peace Network (CPN) also urged the NDF to “declare a reciprocal unilateral ceasefire.”

It said Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire “gave us hope that the long-standing armed conflict between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) is finally nearing its end.”

It urged both parties “to earnestly go back to the negotiating table and forge a political settlement that will pave the way for permanent cessation of hostilities and finally bring about a just and lasting peace.”

It urged the NDF to “respond to President Duterte’s act of goodwill by declaring its own unilateral ceasefire (to prevent) violent clashes from occurring on the ground while both parties hammer out the substantive issues at the negotiating table.”

The CPN also urged the government “to keep to the path of peace.”

“We encourage all sectors, stakeholders and communities to find ways to participate in the peace process so that peoples’ concerns are heard and addressed. We long for a just and durable peace. It is almost within our grasp. Let us not let it slip away again,” he said.

Willingness

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao told MindaNews Friday evening that even before Duterte’s ultimatum, the CPP/NPA/NDF “has already made public their willingness and response of reciprocating the unilateral ceasefire declaration.”

A day after Duterte’s declaration, Jorge Madlos aka Ka Oris, spokesperson of the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-NOC) said that under the direction of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA-NOC “orders all territorial and unit commands of the NPA, including all units of the people’s militias, to stay on active defense mode as we welcome the unilateral ceasefire declaration yesterday by GRP President Rodrigo Duterte and await its operational details.”

Casilao said the primordial consideration should be “whether the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) troops have fully and physically withdrawn (from) IP (Indigenous Peoples) peasant communities, schools, barangay halls, health centers, etc that will avoid hostile situations among two armed groups.”

He also asked if government “can fully demilitarize, disarm and demobilize the operations of paramilitary groups such as the Alamara, Black Fighters, Magahat Bagani which continue to sow terror among IP peasant groups and communities, schools and organizations previously accused by state security forces of being NPA supporters if not accused as fronts.”

Casilao cited the importance of releasing “consultants, elderly, seriously ill and nursing political detainees not only as a confidence-building (measure) but as an obligation in adherence to the previously signed agreements of both panels.”

He said Anakpawis will continue to urge both panels to “work cohesively and make all efforts possible in ensuring the scheduled formal talks to push through.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)