COMMUNIST rebels withdrew a unilateral ceasefire declaration on Wednesday and railed against the Duterte government for failing to honor its promise to release their detained comrades.
They said, however, they would continue to talk peace.
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza was “dismayed” by the news but also said peace talks would continue, and the military and police would not lift orders to suspend anti-communist operations.
Chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd admitted the government was surprised by the NPA move.
“It is a surprise and an unpleasant surprise all the while because we have a scheduled meeting on February 22 to 25 in the Netherlands for the sole purpose of upgrading the existing unilateral ceasefire [of both parties]to a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello told reporters.
New People’s Army (NPA) spokesman Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said the interim ceasefire declared by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA’s National Operations Command on August 28 last year “shall effectively expire on 11:59 p.m. of February 10.”
With the lifting of the ceasefire, Madlos said NPA fighters would “counteract, frustrate and punish” all military operations in communist areas.
He claimed it was possible to wage war while talking peace.
“In our experience and in the experience of other peoples, it is possible to negotiate while fighting until the substantive agreements are forged to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” the NPA spokesman said in a statement.
Madlos cited two reasons for ending the truce: the Duterte administration’s failure to release 200 rebel detainees, and the alleged military encroachment into rebel territory.
He explained that the CPP-NPA issued the ceasefire on the understanding that the government would free political detainees within 60 days of August 28, the start of peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would not release the prisoners after giving concessions to the CPP, NPA and the communist political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Madlos also alleged that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had “treacherously taken advantage” of the ceasefire to conduct “hostile actions and offensive operations” in areas occupied by the NPA.
The military has “occupied at least 500 barrios (villages) which are within the authority of the revolutionary government” across 43 provinces that the NPA claims to operate in, he said.
On January 21, he said, a firefight broke out as the AFP attacked an NPA platoon in Makilala, North Cotabato, resulting in the death of eight soldiers. “An NPA Red fighter was martyred,” Madlos said.
The military has acknowledged the clash but not the casualty count. It earlier accused NPA rebels of violating their own ceasefire declaration in several incidents, including the fatal ambush of two soldiers in Isabela, a shootout with soldiers, and alleged extortion attempts on civilians.
The peace talks in August 2016 were the first between the government and the rebels since 2013, when negotiations were terminated by then president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
A third round of talks between the two parties ended in Rome, Italy last week with no deal on a joint and permanent ceasefire.
Both sides agreed to meet for a fourth round of formal talks in Oslo on April 2 to 6. Officials dealing specifically with the ceasefire issue will meet sooner, in Utrecht in the Netherlands beginning February 22.
Govt won’t lift ceasefire
Dureza said he would recommend retaining the government’s own ceasefire declaration until both sides agree to a bilateral deal.
But he will also recommend to the President that “government forces continue to be relentless in their campaign to protect the civilians from harm and terrorism.”
“We agree that the situation, with various incidents on the ground, had become untenable to sustain without the guidelines and protocols that a bilateral ceasefire provides. This gives more impetus and encouragement to our earnest task of forging a sustainable ceasefire agreement,” he said.
Bello pointed out that both sides disagreed on what constituted a ceasefire violation, as the unilateral declaration did not have clear parameters.
“Right now, if the military went inside schools, you cannot technically consider that a ceasefire violation. In the same vein, the NPA burning equipment or a bus cannot also be considered ceasefire violation. That’s why we really need to come up with a bilateral ceasefire agreement so that you will be able to identify the acts that constitute a violation of the ceasefire agreement,” Bello said.
The AFP said the suspension of military operations against the rebels will stay, but the military will continue dealing with incidents of extortion; burning of vehicles, farm and livelihood implements; and other criminal acts.
The Philippine National Police said it would also continue to observe a suspension of offensive police operations.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND FERNAN MARASIGAN