Philippine Military to Forgo Yuletide Truce with Communist Rebels

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
Philippine Military to Forgo Yuletide Truce with Communist Rebels Members of the communist New People’s Army stand in formation as they mark the 46th anniversary of its founding, in a remote village on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines, Dec. 26, 2014.

After deadly clashes with communist guerrillas during the past week, the Philippine military announced Thursday that it wouldn’t observe a traditional Christmastime truce with the insurgents.

This will mark the first time in years that the Philippine armed forces will not implement a unilateral ceasefire during the year-end holiday season in the majority-Catholic Philippines.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “will not recommend to the commander-in-chief a holiday ceasefire with the communist terrorist group,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA), he said, had in the past shown “its incapacity for sincerity.”

“This was the AFP’s painful experience where the CTG reneged from their own ceasefire declaration by attacking and killing soldiers on humanitarian and peace and development missions,” Arevalo said, using the military’s acronym for the NPA.

In previous years, the rebels had persisted with attacks against government forces as well as civilians despite their declarations of a yuletide ceasefire, he said.

“They venture on peace talks only to give themselves the chance to regroup, refurbish, recruit new members, and recoup their losses,” he said.

The military made the announcement a day after troops killed five suspected NPA rebels during a dawn raid in South Cotabato province in Mindanao, the country’s southern third. The NPA is the military wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The guerrillas who died were allegedly conducting a recruitment drive for new fighters, the military said, adding that area residents had informed the authorities about them.

Earlier this week, President Duterte accused a leftist congressman and several leftist groups represented in Congress of being fronts for the Philippine communist insurgency, Asia’s longest running one that began in 1969.

Meanwhile on Nov. 28, the daughter of a leftist Congresswoman was killed in a gunbattle with troops in the south. Jevilyn Campos Cullamat, the 22-year-old woman who was killed, served as a medic with the NPA and a member of its youth propaganda wing.

Photos of the slain Cullamat were sent out by the army in the south, but Arevalo later apologized for this and assured an investigation for the action.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, on Thursday condemned the Philippine military’s action as an “outrage against the dignity of the individual who was killed,” saying it was “prohibited under laws of war.”

“Evidently posed photographs of the body of a female New People’s Army guerrilla are a cruel and unnecessary affront to that individual’s dignity, and violate the laws of war,” Robertson said.

The strength of the guerrilla force is estimated to be around 5,000 troops divided among 80 fronts, which stretch from north to south across the Philippine archipelago.

On Thursday, NPA representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

Duterte was a former student of Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP. One of his first official acts when Duterte won the presidency in 2016 was to launch peace talks with the guerrillas.

He later called off the negotiations after accusing the NPA of continuing to attack military positions despite the peace process. The rebels, however, insisted that they were in defensive positions, and only engaged government forces when attacked.

Dennis Jay Santos contributed to this report from Davao City, southern Philippines.

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