Philippine communists on Friday matched a unilateral truce declared by President Rodrigo Duterte by ordering their guerrilla units to halt operations against government forces temporarily.
Jorge Madlos (also known as Ka Oris) the spokesman for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), announced the ceasefire for its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), after Duterte earlier this month blacklisted both groups as terrorist organizations and shut the door on peace talks aimed at ending Asia’s longest-running insurgency.
“This unilateral declaration of ceasefire shall be in effect from 6 p.m. Dec. 23 to 6 p.m. Dec. 26; and 6 p.m. Dec 30 to 6 p.m. Jan. 2, 2018,” Madlos said.
Madlos said the ceasefire was “in observance of the Filipino people’s traditional holidays” and the Communist Party’s 49th anniversary on Dec. 26.
“All units and people’s militias shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military campaigns and operations,” he said.
However, rebel fighters in the field would remain on “active defensive mode,” meaning they could shoot back if attacked.
Rebel fighters were instructed to be on a heightened state of alert, Madlos said.
He noted that during a ceasefire announced by the rebels last year, military forces occupied and moved troops to some 500 villages nationwide.
“Despite the [government’s] own unilateral ceasefire declaration, the CPP and NPA is only too aware of the AFP’s treachery, attacks and deception,” Madlos said, referring to the Philippine military.
“As such, all leading organs and branches of the CPP, commands and units of the NPA and people’s militias and revolutionary mass organizations shall closely monitor any hostile actions, provocations and movements being carried out by the enemy armed forces,” he said.
On Wednesday, the government declared a unilateral ceasefire with the NPA during the holidays and called on the rebel leadership to do the same.
In November, Duterte canceled all negotiations aimed at ending the CPP’s Maoist rebellion, which began in 1969. The president did this after CPP rebels staged a series of attacks, including one that killed an infant girl.
Military estimates placed the NPA strength at more than 5,000 scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts nationwide.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had chosen to suspend the offensives so the predominantly Catholic Philippines could feel safer during the holidays.
However, he said, troops would be authorized to apprehend NPA gunmen should the guerrillas mount attacks while the truce was in effect.
Yet Duterte was hopeful that the NPA would respect the ceasefire, Roque said Thursday.
If not, then it would “prove what he has been saying all along that the NPA are treacherous,” Roque said.
“So the ball is in the court of the NPA.”
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City contributed to this report.