MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) for a ceasefire as he put the entire island of Luzon on lockdown over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Kayo bang mga NPA, nagmamahal kayo sa gobyerno? ‘Pag hindi…tumulong kayo. Distancing. At huwag ‘nyo muna galawin ang mga sundalo,” Duterte said as he announced the enhanced community quarantine on Monday night, March 16. (You NPA, do you love the government? If not…help out. Distancing. And don’t bother soldiers for now.)
“Ceasefire muna tayo. Ako na ang nanghihingi…. Kindly give me that,” he added. (Let’s go on ceasefire for now. I am asking you.)
Duterte made this appeal as he alternated between reading a prepared declaration of the lockdown and talking spontaneously in his usual meandering way.
Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, the exiled founder and figurehead of the communist rebellion, responded with a statement that expressed doubts about Duterte’s motives in declaring a lockdown.
Enforced by police and soldiers, the lockdown may be meant “to suppress the people’s democratic movement in the urban areas,” Sison said.
Nevertheless, Sison said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), would consider Duterte’s offer.
“If he is really serious with his offer to have a ceasefire with the NDFP, he must make a formal offer through the [government] negotiating panel to the NDFP negotiating panel,” Sison said, adding that if so, the CPP and NDFP would “seriously study” the possibility.
Duterte has repeatedly dangled offers of negotiations with the communist rebels, even when he has vowed to eradicate them by the end of his term in June 2022.
Early in his term, Duterte broached peace talks with the NDFP but the effort bogged down in November 2017, when Duterte accused the rebels of repeatedly violating a ceasefire.
In December 2018, Duterte launched a campaign to deplete the communist movement’s guerrilla forces through so-called localized peace talks, offering fighters cash incentives and livelihood packages in exchange for their defection.
In December 2019, Duterte yet again offered peace talks to the CPP-NPA-NDFP, but he and Sison could not agree on a venue. Although a member of Duterte’s Cabinet had begun setting up the negotiations, the attempt has pretty much fizzled out.
‘Love your military man’
The lockdown, from March 17 to April 12, is meant to prevent the coronavirus from further spreading among Luzon’s more than 57 million people across 8 administrative regions.
Duterte has repeatedly insisted the measure is “not martial law,” but in his public addresses on the subject, he kept warning the public against confronting the police and military personnel enforcing the lockdown.
“So inuulit-ulit kasi yung reminder, you should love your military man. Namamatay na nga ‘yan sa giyera. ‘Tamo, uuwi na du’n sa kanila, kabaong na lang,” he said in the same speech. (I keep reminding you, you should love your military man. They already die in the war. See, he arrives home in a casket.)
“You should feel for your soldiers and policemen. They are not your enemies,” the President said as a way of dismissing the public’s apprehensions over the lockdown.
The “community quarantine” that began in Metro Manila on Sunday, March 15, was largely enforced by the Philippine National Police. Military contingents were deployed to cover certain areas.
It is unclear whether the Armed Forces of the Philippines would take on a more prominent role in the “enhanced community quarantine” that now covers a third of the country. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has yet to respond to reporters’ queries on the matter as of this posting.
As of Monday, the Philippines has had 142 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and 12 deaths.
The global death toll, meanwhile, has reached 6,501, with 3,213 of the fatalities in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau). The number of cases worldwide has risen to 168,250, with more than 80,860 of the infections in China. The virus has spread to at least 142 countries. – Rappler.com