A unilateral ceasefire with local communists that had been declared by the Duterte administration ended before it could even get started. This was because an NPA band attacked a government CAFGU unit that was obeying their commanders’ SOMO (suspension of military operations) order.
It seemed that there would be hell to pay, to quote from President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent warning to crooks and criminals in and out of the government.That is for what the military called a “golden opportunity” missed for peace to finally reign in the country after more than four decades of armed fighting between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the past six administrations.
And it looked like that it is not going to be the communist forces who would foot the bill.
Without either of the protagonists admitting to having botched the truce, the NPA went on the offensive, accusing the government of “sabotaging” the ceasefire that it described as “non-existent” in the first place and to which there was “zero compliance” from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Surprisingly, the Duterte administration had no reaction to the charges, only saying in part that the President was lifting his declaration because it went unanswered by the Maoist rebels after a 5 p.m. Saturday (July 30) deadline lapsed.
The rebels, apparently, did want a ceasefire after all, as it eventually declared one at 8 p.m. also on Saturday, also unilateral, that it said was to take effect on August 20 in time for the resumption of peace talks between the two sides in Norway on August 27. This would have meant, though, that the government military and police forces were to be like sitting ducks until August 20.
Apparently, the National Democratic Front (NDF), whose armed wing is the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) its political arm was testing the negotiating skills and savvy of the new President of the Philippines, who supposedly had had a soft spot for the Left here.
That President Duterte would blink seemed like a certainty for the NDF, when he could have waited a little longer than usual but he apparently was oblivious that the Reds were testing his patience or the little of it that he seemed to have anyway.
The NDF, through CCP founder Jose Maria Sison, seemed to have read Mr. Duterte well, whom he said was a “very volatile” leader given to hasty decisions.
Sison may be right in assessing President Duterte, also in part because the President had been his student in college and also because the President seemed too transparent for peace negotiations that would require discretion more than, well, absolute openness.
The President has the Philippine National Police by the collar, the reason his war on drugs has been generally hailed by Filipinos.
He, however, seemed to be groping in handling the Armed Forces, despite having appointed somebody he supposedly knows in Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya to head the military.
Besides, Visaya had said that the AFP was looking at the ceasefire declaration with “guarded optimism.”
On the bigger stage where Mr. Duterte has to keep an eye on traditional mortal enemies the CPP-NDFP and their NPA, he would have to have to be as “slow” and stoic as a turtle in order for him to be able to play the part of a President who would finally lead the country to lasting peace.
After all, he is trusted by more than 91 percent of Filipinos.
Mere tough talk would not cut it with the NDF and its armed and political wings.
That the government found time to even consider negotiating peace with them seemed to have come from the recognition that the communist insurgency is not a spent force that it is pictured to be and that those behind it are prepared to fight for 40 years more.
President Duterte has just to reconsider his recent statement that he is done with governing the Philippines once federalism is in place.