Distrust on both sides as gov’t starts ceasefire with communist rebels

JC Gotinga
Distrust on both sides as gov’t starts ceasefire with communist rebels

Rappler.com

The defense chief expects guerrilla attacks to continue, while rebel leaders say the Luzon lockdown is meant only to intimidate and immobilize the public

MANILA, Philippines – Government forces warily stand down as rebel leaders declined to reciprocate President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of a ceasefire during the nearly month-long lockdown of Luzon over the coronavirus pandemic.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, March 19, ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “to temporarily suspend all offensive combat operations against the CTG (communist terrorist group) but to continue normal law enforcement operations in coordination with the PNP (Philippine National Police) in order to maintain peace and order.”

The government usually refers to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its guerrilla force the New People’s Army (NPA), and its political wing the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) as the “communist terrorist group.”

The unilateral ceasefire began at midnight on Thursday, and will lapse at midnight on April 15, along with the scheduled end of the lockdown in Metro Manila. The lockdown over the rest of Luzon is set to last only until April 12.

Noting past alleged ceasefire violations by communist guerrillas, Lorenzana reminded the military “to remain vigilant, and ready to defend themselves and the communities in their respective areas of responsibility against those who will take advantage of the nationwide state of calamity to advance their selfish cause.”

“The enemy…has a bloody track record of using the government’s declarations of ceasefire to launch offensives, ambuscades, destruction of government and private property, extortion activities as well as to recover their dwindling numbers and create a false perception that they still have influence and relevance,” Lorenzana said.

Programs to disarm guerrillas and resettle them as civilians are to continue, the defense chief added. The government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) offers cash incentives and livelihood packages to entice rebel fighters to defect.

Psywar?

The NDF, meanwhile, has refused to declare its own ceasefire, saying the government’s gesture “is premature, if not insincere and false.”

Unless it receives sufficient assurances from the [government], the NDFP will be inclined to think that the…unilateral ceasefire declaration is not sincere and is not intended to invite reciprocation by the NDFP, but is meant to be a mere psywar (psychological warfare) trick,” NDF’s exiled leader Jose Maria “Joma” Sison said in a statement dated March 18, hours after Duterte officially declared a ceasefire with the NPA.

Sison called the lockdown “militarist,” and said it was meant to intimidate the public and suppress their freedom of movement, including health workers and people seeking testing or treatment for the coronavirus.

Sison also accused the military and police of continuing to “red-tag” activists and human rights defenders.

Since attempts at peace talks bogged down between the Duterte administration and the NDF in November 2017, government forces have clamped down on progressive groups whom they accused of being legal fronts for the CPP-NPA. Some members of such groups reported being harassed or intimidated by the police and military.

‘With a good heart’

After putting Metro Manila on “community quarantine” on Sunday, March 15, Duterte amped up the measure into an “enhanced community quarantine” covering all of Luzon with its more than 57 million people, beginning on Tuesday, March 17.

All modes of public transportation are banned, movement from one locality to another is highly restricted, and only essential businesses are allowed to operate during the lockdown.

Because the police force and the military are on the frontlines of enforcing the lockdown, Duterte on Monday, March 16, urged the communist rebels to go on ceasefire.

“Kindly give me that…. I will repay you with a good heart in the coming days,” the President said.

In December 2019, Duterte made a surprise offer to revive peace talks with the NDF, but so far to no avail. Duterte and Sison could not agree on a venue for negotiations.

Duterte had, from the beginning of his term in June 2016, dangled offers of negotiation with the communists, but he rescinded them when guerrilla attacks allegedly continued against government forces and civilians.

“Promises of Duterte, such as doing a good turn from a good heart, can be believed only as they are realized promptly and according to a definite schedule,” Sison said in his statement on the ceasefire offer. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.