THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it would continue military operations even though the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have agreed to declare a joint interim ceasefire.
“We are pleased to learn that the document which shall pave the way to the ceasefire has been signed. Meantime, while there is no ceasefire declaration yet, there will be no corresponding suspension of military operations for the moment,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office.
While the AFP recognizes the peace process, “we have to continue with our focused, deliberate, and surgical combat, intelligence and civil-military operations for the meantime,” he said.
The AFP, said Arevalo, was hopeful negotiators from both sides would soon finalize and approve the guidelines and ground rules that would lead to the declaration of a joint ceasefire.
Responding to the NDF’s call for a 10-day suspension of military and police operations in parts of Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte for the release of four “prisoners of war,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, commander of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division said such declaration was the prerogative of the President.
In the absence of such declaration, the military will fulfill its mandate of protecting communities against “terrorist attacks” by the communist armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) such as the burning of equipment and extortion activities, Madrigal said.
“As it happened in Davao [Oriental], they were able to release their hostages there without any [suspension of military and police operations]. They can simply leave them to local officials without any fanfare,” added Madrigal.
Lt. Gen. Leonardo Guerrero, commander of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command for his part said: “We only conduct focused military operations if there is a need for us to address atrocities or armed violent attacks being perpetrated by the NPA against our troops and civilians.”
He also noted that the communist rebels released two of their hostages in Davao Oriental without asking for a suspension of military and police operations.
The agreement signed on Wednesday is an interim one to distinguish it from the “ultimate laying down of arms” once both sides reach a final peace agreement, said John Raña, director of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, on Wednesday.
Palace welcomes deal
Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the agreement on an interim ceasefire between the government and the NDF during the fourth round of peace talks in the Netherlands.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella was hopeful the joint interim ceasefire deal would “[prevent]further hostilities and unnecessary loss of lives on the ground.”
“The peace process, while seemingly slow, highlights the maturing social and political sense of the Filipino,” Abella said.
The signing was a turnaround from the suspension of talks last February, when the government and communist panels lifted a unilateral ceasefire the two sides separately announced in August last year.
Under the interim agreement signed Wednesday, both panels will direct their respective committees to meet, discuss, formulate, and finalize the guidelines and the ground rules of the ceasefire.
The interim joint ceasefire will be effective until a permanent ceasefire deal is agreed upon as part of the final peace agreement between the two sides.
WITH REPORTS FROM CATHERINE S. VALENTE