Philippine communist guerrillas waging a decades-long insurgency agreed on Tuesday to a cease-fire, allowing the government to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic amid soaring nationwide infections.
Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, who is in exile in the Netherlands, said he had asked the CPP to declare a cease-fire by its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), days after the government announced a cease-fire to cope with the viral outbreak.
The rebels “need to refrain from launching tactical offensives to gain more time and opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and to look after the health and overall welfare of people in both urban and rural areas,” Sison said in a statement posted online.
On Tuesday, the Philippine health department said the death toll from COVID-19 had increased by two to reach 35, with 552 infected. It said the number of cases was expected to increase in the coming days. Confirmed nationwide cases have nearly doubled since Friday.
More than 18,200 people have died and at least 407,000 others have been infected worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by infectious-disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
The Philippine government, which on March 18 declared a one-month cease-fire in operations against NPA guerrillas, said the move was meant to allow state forces to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Manila advised the communist party to heed the call of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for warring parties to muzzle their weapons as the world struggles to contain the pandemic.
Guterres on Monday called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” and to “put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” Guterres said.
When the government announced the cease-fire last week, Sison said at the time there was no clear basis for the gesture and refused to reciprocate.
After the rebels rejected the cease-fire, Duterte peace adviser Carlito Galvez accused the NPA of killing a tribal chieftain and a former rebel on southern Mindanao Island and of firing at a militia outpost in central Negros Island. The NPA has denied the accusations.
A ‘positive development’
On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo described Sison’s directive as “a positive development” that would allow the unimpeded movement of health workers.
“As Mr. Sison proposes an agreement be realized during this global health crisis, it is our hope that their group’s armed component on the ground would show genuine sincerity in laying down their arms and not use the occasion to mobilize their forces,” Panelo said.
“The palace looks forward to them making good and staying true to their words,” he said.
The Philippine communists have been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies, which began in 1969. Thousands of civilians and fighters from both sides have died in the fighting.
Luis Liwanag in Manila and Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, contributed to this report.