Duterte mulls terminating ceasefire with NPA
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night considered the option of immediately terminating government's ceasefire with the communist New People's Army (NPA) in the face of rebel attacks, Rappler learned on Friday morning, February 3.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said lifting the 5-month-old ceasefire with the guerrillas "is one of the options the President was toying with last night in the face of offensives launched by the CPP/NPA." Duterte was in Davao Thursday night.
Asked if the President has issued any official order on it, Lorenzana said his department was still "awaiting word from the Palace."
A Malacañang official however confirmed that the President indeed decided on the lifting of the ceasefire Thursday night, February 2, and has in fact issued the order to Armed Forces chief of staff General Eduardo Año.
The order was for the military to "lift the ceasefire immediately," the official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
On Friday afternoon, however, Año told Rappler: "No orders given yet but we shall abide by whatever the President says."
Rappler earlier obtained a text message sent to military commanders Thursday night about the plan of the President to lift the ceasefire. "PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) will lift the ceasefire tonite. CSAFP (Chief of staff, AFP) instruction is to consolidate all BTA/forces and go on offensive ASAP." BTA refers to Bayanihan Team Activities that are conducted by soldiers in communities for their "people-centered" projects but which the NPA describes as counter-insurgency operations.
The planned termination comes after the NPA lifted its own ceasefire on February 1, which is effective after 10 days.
6 soldiers, 1 NPA rebel killed
Armed clashes between the military and the NPA have occurred in the past two weeks, with the 2 armed groups accusing each other of committing ceasefire abuses and claiming they were only forced to fight back.
Duterte is scheduled on Friday afternoon to visit the wake in Davao City of one of the 6 soldiers killed in clashes with NPA rebels. (READ: Soldier killed in NPA attack was newly engaged)
The first firefight to break the 5-month-old ceasefire happened in Makilala, North Cotabato, where an NPA rebel was killed in government operation against supposed "extortionists." It happened while talks were ongoing in Rome. (READ: Soldiers, NPA break ceasefire in North Cotabato)
A week later, beginning on Sunday, the military claimed coordinated attacks from the NPA. At least 6 soldiers were killed including a junior Army officer belonging to the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2016.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla claimed the NPA used excessive force against 3 soldiers in Bukidnon, citing a report from the police that a total of 76 bullets were used to kill them.
"This excessive use of force was unwarranted and is clearly a violation of the rights of these individuals. In the rules of war, this is not acceptable and we condemn this. We are saddened by the developments on the ground," Padilla said.
The military also reported that 3 soldiers were abducted in Sultan Kudarat and Surigao Del Sur.
In a statement Thursday night, National Democratic Front chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said they will recommend the immediate release of the NPA's "prisoners of war" after "due investigation" that they did not commit human rights violations.
Reinstating the ceasefire
Chief peace adviser Jesus Dureza and Defense Secretary Lorenzana earlier recommended that the government should hold its ceasefire with the NPA as a goodwill measure for the ongoing talks.
Peace negotiators also vowed to work to reinstate the ceasefire. The military reiterated this call noontime on Friday.
Peace negotiators have scheduled a February 22-25 side meeting in Utrecth, The Netherlands to discuss a possible joint ceasefire deal.
The 4th round of talks is scheduled in April in Oslo, Norway. – Rappler.com