COMMUNIST rebels won’t lay down arms yet even as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) immediately heeded President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
In a statement, the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), set two conditions before reciprocating: receipt of the text of the government’s ceasefire declaration and the release of its detained members.
The NDF, quoting its chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, said both sides should be able to exchange ceasefire declarations when peace talks finally resume on August 20 to 27 in Oslo, Norway.
Jalandoni wrote Silvestre Bello 3rd, chief negotiator of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) panel, that the NDF welcomed Duterte’s ceasefire declaration, the NDF statement said.
“He averred that the [NDF] would be able to respond to or reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the GRP soon after receiving its full text. He assured Bello that the [NDF] would study it carefully and make the appropriate response,” the NDF said.
“Jalandoni assumed that the GRP ceasefire declaration … is necessarily connected with the release of all current political prisoners under the amnesty proclamation to be issued by President Duterte and concurred in by a majority of Congress,” it added, pointing to such arrangement under the Oslo Joint Statement between Duterte’s peace negotiators and the NDF on June 15.
There are at least 557 political prisoners all over the country, based on figures from human rights group Karapatan.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, himself a former military officer, clarified however that government troops will never put their guards down and continue to assist police in law enforcement.
“The ceasefire will cover combat operations against insurgents but not against lawless armed groups. We expect the CPP/NPA/NDF to reciprocate,” he said.
On Tuesday, the AFP said Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya ordered all commanders of unified commands, major services, and AFP-wide service support units on Monday to observe the suspension of military operations (SOMO) against the communist rebels.
The SOMO ordered the cessation of all military offensives against the CPP, NDF and the communist armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), “including the conduct of combat maneuvers that may be construed as provocative acts that may be deemed [to be in violation]of the SOMO,” said Visaya in his directive dated July 25, the same day Duterte made the ceasefire declaration during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, said Visaya’s order did not mean “back to barracks” for the soldiers.
“The police for example will continue to perform law enforcement operations and guard the community against criminal elements, and the AFP continues to support the police on this,” Padilla explained.
Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, Army commander, said the military will do its part in “finding a permanent peaceful resolution of this conflict.”