President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday revoked the unilateral ceasefire he announced in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25 after communist rebels failed to communicate with the government before the ultimatum set by the President.
Duterte had warned that he will lift the ceasefire if the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) failed to declare their own truce by 5 p.m. yesterday.
“Let me now announce that I am hereby ordering the immediate lifting of the unilateral ceasefire that I ordered last July 25 against the communist rebels,” Duterte said in a statement sent to reporters by Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza.
The President directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to also withdraw the operational guidelines they issued in pursuance of the ceasefire declaration.
“I am ordering 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,” he said.
On Friday, the President said the CPP should reciprocate the government’s ceasefire declaration by 5 p.m. Saturday.
He issued the ultimatum after NPA members attacked government’s militias Wednesday in Davao del Norte, killing one and injuring several others from the government side.
Duterte personally condoled with the family of the slain militiaman at the headquarters of the 60th Infantry Batallion in Davao del Norte.
“I am asking you, are you ready to declare ceasefire or not? I will, 5 in the afternoon, I will wait for that declaration. If I don’t get word from you, I will lift the order of ceasefire,” Duterte said on Friday.
CPP leader Jose Maria Sison has asked Duterte to give the group more time to study the implications of the truce.
“President Duterte should be patient and not expect quick surrenders from highly principled and experienced revolutionaries who have a growing mass base against the rotten ruling system of big compradors and landlords,” Sison said in a statement.
But Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesman of the NPA-Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, claimed that the unilateral ceasefire was not enforced in Mindanao.
“There is no conspicuous and veritable unilateral ceasefire exercised by AFP and PNP and paramilitary troops in Southern Mindanao,” Sanchez said in a statement posted at the communist website on Saturday.
“The NPA and the people’s militia are ready to defend itself from enemy troops who are actively present in almost all villages in Southern Mindanao. These are not troops implementing innocuous ‘civil-military operations’ but are implementing combat operations, surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, and psychological warfare in civilian communities,” he said.
“These are troops who use communities as garrisons, conduct counter-revolutionary operations, harass and threaten civilians and ensure that their protected illegal activities such as drug trade and logging and mining pay-offs continue unhindered,” he added.
Sanchez noted that in Magpet, North Cotabato for example, soldiers continued their military operations.
“On July 27, platoons of the 84th IB were deployed in far-flung communities of Toril, Davao City. In Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, troops of the 2nd Scout Rangers Battalion conducted combat operations on July 29,” he said.
Sanchez claimed that one proof of continuing operations is the recent firefight in Kapalong, Davao del Norte that resulted in the death of a militiaman and the wounding of four others.
He accused “anti-peace process” military officials of spinning lies to derail the negotiations.
He said it is difficult for the NPA to reciprocate a ceasefire “when there are military officials who do not wish to follow Duterte’s order.”
“While the NPA-SMROC is ready, willing and able to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire in accordance to the parameters, guidelines and rules to be set by the national leadership of the NPA, CPP, and NDFP, it cannot be harangued to reciprocate a unilateral ceasefire order that is overtly mocked by the AFP hierarchy and its ground troops and paramilitary forces,” Sanchez said.
He urged the President to investigate the military’s operations and deployment of troops to enable the aforesaid unilateral ceasefire order to become effective. “Otherwise, it cannot burden the NPA to reciprocate what is turning out to be a spurious unilateral ceasefire,” he added.
Peace talks to continue
The lifting of the unilateral ceasefire will not affect the resumption of peace talks between the government and communist rebels next month, Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said.
“Who is saying it will not push through? We have scheduled it August 20 up to August 27. So we’re pushing through with this as originally scheduled,” Dureza said in a radio interview.
“It will not in any way affect the peace talks because we know even when we agreed to resume the peace negotiations, we have tabled as an agenda item the discussion on the interim ceasefire,” he added.
The peace negotiations will be held in Oslo, Norway.
Dureza also denied rumors that the AFP has plans of sabotaging the peace process with the communist rebels.
“I have not found any indication at all that the AFP is sabotaging it,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, if you listen to the supportive statements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, they have fully supported the President in his declaration, in our efforts to resume the peace negotiations, they have supported even the call of the President for a unilateral ceasefire,” he added.
But Sison said in a television interview said they planned to declare a ceasefire at 8 p.m. on Saturday. The ceasefire, he added, was recommended by the National Democratic Front to the CPP-NPA.
Sison said the NDF is still open to peace talks with the government.