DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 Dec) – The ceasefire is on.
President Rodrigo Duterte and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Sunday each declared a 16-day unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire from December 23 until 11:59 p.m. on January 7 as a goodwill measure during the holiday season and a confidence-building measure towards the resumption of the peace negotiations that Duterte terminated in November 2017.
Duterte also reconstituted the government negotiating panel, naming Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea among its members.
“The Palace hereby announces that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has directed the declaration of a unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire with the coalition of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF),” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement Sunday night.
A Joint Statement signed on December 21 in Utrecht, The Netherlands by representatives of the government and NDF peace panels, signed for government by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, government peace panel chair and member Hernani Braganza and for the NDF by Luis Jalandoni, Senior Adviser and Fidel Agcaoili, peace panel chair, recommended the ceasefire declaration.
The NDF represents the CPP and NPA in the peace talks.
The CPP’s Central Committee, which declared the ceasefire ahead of Duterte on Sunday, ordered “all commands and units of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the people’s militias a nationwide ceasefire order that will take effect from 00:00H of 23 December 2019 to 23:59H of 7 January 2020.”
It said the ceasefire order will take effect upon the issuance of the “corresponding and reciprocal ceasefire orders in the form of Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO) by the government.
Panelo said Duterte had instructed the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), “to issue an official declaration therefor and communicate the directive for a national armistice with the CPP-NPA-NDF to their respective agents and armed units for due observance during the period.”
Panelo described the ceasefire declaration as a “reflection of the seriousness and commitment of the GRP, as well as a mark of goodwill on the part of the Commander-in-Chief.”
He said the Office of the President “looks forward to the possible resumption of peace talks with the NDF, achieve accord with the whole coalition and ultimately, attain a lasting peace among the citizenry of our country.”
“The President wishes that all Filipinos enjoy quietude and serenity as they celebrate the Holiday Season with their loved ones free from violence or any form of disruption,” Panelo said.
The CPP Central Committee described the ceasefire as “measures of good will and confidence building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays.”
It said the purpose of the reciprocal and unilateral ceasefires is “to generate a positive atmosphere conducive to the holding of informal talks preparatory to the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations.”
During the ceasefire period, it said, all NPA units and people’s militias “shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the armed units and personnel” of the AFP, PNP “and other paramilitary and armed groups attached to the GRP.”
The CPP, however, urged its rebel forces to maintain a high degree of vigilance against any hostile actions or movements contrary to the ceasefire order.
“Active-defense operations shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by hostile forces,” the CPP ceasefire order said.
Duterte terminated the peace negotiations with the NDF through Proclamation 360 on November 23, 2017 just as the government peace panel was on its way to Utrecht supposedly for another round of talks.
On December 5, 2017, he signed Proclamation 374 designating the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.
A year later, on December 4, 2018, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 70 “institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict, and directing the adoption of a National Peace Framework.”
The EO institutionalized Duterte’s preference for “localized peace talks.”
Duterte on December 5 announced in Legazpi City during the Situation Briefing on the Effects of Typhoon ‘Tisoy’ in the Bicol Region that he was sending Bello to Utrecht to talk with the NDF leadership. The NDF represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) in the peace negotiations.
“Now, this is the first time that I will reveal it. I’m sending Secretary Bello…. So he should go there. Talk to them and… My… I cannot—I cannot talk about it basta he… I’m sending him back to Sison and talk to him about… Malaman lang ninyo ‘yan pagka—pagdating ng panahon (You’ll find out when the time comes),” Duterte said.
“If (Sison) agrees, ito ang sabi—sabi ko last card (this is what I say—my last card). When I say my last card is—my time is running out,” Duterte added.
Religious leaders welcomed the ceasefire declared by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“It’s a very positive step towards peace,” said Charlito Manlupig, chair of Balay Mindanaw, a non-government organization based in Cagayan de Oro City involved in peace-building activities.
Manlupig said a ceasefire, if honored by both parties, can be a major step of a possible resumption of peace talks.
Bishop Felixberto Calang of Iglesia Filipina Independente(IFI) hopes that both sides will honor the ceasefire.
Balay Mindanaw and IFI are in the forefront of Mindanao organizations calling for both sides to go back to the negotiating tables and end the 50-year bloodshed.
President Duterte ended the peace talks with the communist rebels in 2017 and ordered the military to crush the rebels before his term ends on 2022. (Carolyn O. Arguillas, with Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)