But Duterte not yet ready to reciprocate
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Saturday announced it was set to declare a unilateral ceasefire not later than March 31.
This was in anticipation of “the fourth round of peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) set for April 2-6 in The Netherlands,” the CPP said in a statement.
The communist group said it was making the announcement following the release on Friday by the New People’s Army (NPA), its armed wing, of two “prisoners of war” in Mati, Davao Oriental.
The CPP said it looked forward to a “similar unilateral ceasefire declaration” by the government, as mutually agreed upon in back-channel talks from March 10 to 11.
“The CPP urges the Duterte regime to order the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to slow down its ongoing all-out offensive military operations and aerial bombing and shelling campaigns against rural barangays (villages) to help create a favorable atmosphere for the mutual ceasefire,” the CPP said.
The CPP also said it was anticipating the release by the Duterte government of 19 elderly and sickly rebel leaders from prison, along with four detained NDFP consultants and one comrade recently rearrested.
“The revolutionary forces are encouraged by the determination of the NDFP and GRP to continue with peace negotiations and accelerate negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR),” the CPP said, noting that these agreements “can be completed within the year through earnest negotiations.”
“Through peace negotiations, the Duterte government and the NDFP can unite on addressing the pressing socioeconomic problems confronting the Filipino people amid the worsening crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal system and the global capitalist system,” it added.
The CPP said it was also supportive of the efforts of the NDFP and the government “to forge a bilateral ceasefire even as it anticipates difficult negotiations.”
NDFP consultant Luis Jalandoni earlier said a “more stable unilateral ceasefire” would be declared.
“Maybe on March 31 and April 1 both sides will declare a unilateral ceasefire that will be more stable than the unilateral ceasefire before,” Jalandoni had said.
The peace negotiations, now on its fourth round, will resume next month. The talks will tackle social and economic reforms including an agreement on free distribution of land to the farmers as discussed in Rome on January 25.
Last month, the President withdrew a unilateral ceasefire declaration and scrapped peace talks with communist rebels, dismayed by rebel attacks and demands such as freedom for all detained rebels.
After terminating the peace talks, Duterte called the communists “terrorists” and ordered the arrest of NDF consultants temporarily freed for peace talks in Oslo, Norway and Rome, Italy.
Duterte wanted a bilateral ceasefire agreement that would put in place common rules of engagement for the military and the NPA.
But the NDF demanded the release of around 400 detained rebels before agreeing to sign such a deal.
In response, Duterte said he would release some rebel prisoners only after the signing of a bilateral ceasefire deal.
Duterte not ready to decide on ceasefire
President Duterte however has yet to decide on whether his administration would declare its own unilateral ceasefire following the plan of the communists to issue such declaration by March 31.
In a news conference in Bukidnon on Saturday, the President said he still needed to consult with other officials before announcing his decision, as he was worried a ceasefire with the communist rebels would become an opportunity for rebel attacks against the government. Duterte said he also wanted to know what leaders in Congress thought about the rebel group’s move.
“You know there’s only one president. But that office of the presidency is not controlled by me at all. I mean there’s no thing as an absolute decision especially if it involves the interest of the country. I have to consult the speaker. I have to consult the Senate president. I have to convene the National Security Council and I have to ask the generals of the army and the police…If the communists do not follow, there will be an aberration in the system of talking about peace,” he said.
Duterte then recalled that the communists ambushed police and military personnel on February 4, six days before the termination of their unilateral ceasefire that began in August last year.
The communists blamed the alleged failure of the government to fulfill its promise to release all detained rebels.
“So lets say it’s the termination of the ceasefire on February 10. But on February 4 they ambushed the police and the military. An army man was shot repeatedly, 74 times… You fight as warrior, you do not kill people like they are animals. That’s why I blew my top,” the President said.
He reminded the communist rebels that they cannot stop government troops from entering their lairs.
“You have to talk sense and you honor what you say…they cannot just say, ‘You know the police and military entered into our territory.’ My God! I do not recognize any territory of anybody. It belongs to the Republic of the Philippines, every inch of this island, every body of water is owned by the Republic of the Philippines. I don’t like that. That’s a pretext to ambush my soldiers. We won’t have anything to talk about if it’s like that,” he added.
Duterte then asked the communists to release all hostages, including soldiers, policemen and civilians, ahead of the resumption of talks.
He also wants the rebels to stop extortion and the collection of the so-called revolutionary tax.
“I want also a ceasefire agreement reduced in writing, the parameters established properly,” the President said.