MANILA, Philippines – A ceasefire between government forces and communist rebels could be in place by the end of the month, if the Duterte administration responds favorably to a new statement from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
"To further support peace negotiations, the CPP is willing to issue a unilateral ceasefire declaration separately but simultaneously with the Duterte government on August 20. The time-frame can be determined through negotiations," the CPP's Central Committee said in a statement on Sunday, July 31.
The statement comes a day after Duterte took back a "unilateral ceasefire" against communist rebels barely a week after it was announced during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
"As earlier planned, the negotiating panels of the NDFP and GRP can thereafter exchange these declarations in order to discuss points for cooperation and coordination and determine ways of preventing armed skirmishes, misunderstandings, and miscommunications during the course of the peace talks," added the CPP, referring to the planned talks between the two sides beginning August 20 in Oslo, Norway.
On July 25, while addressing Congress in his first SONA, Duterte announced the ceasefire "to immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities, and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks."
Police and military units on the ground were ordered to stop all offensive operations against the communist rebels.
But things went awry when NPA fighters supposedly attacked government militia in Davao del Norte.
Duterte gave the communist groups until July 28 to explain the clash. The next day, he called on the NDF to issue is own unilateral ceasefire and gave a deadline: July 30, 5 pm. By July 30 in the evening, Duterte revoked the truce, and military and police units returned to status quo.
"In its report, the NPA unit pointed to how they were provoked to carry out the ambush as part of its active defense in the face of an imminent armed encounter with the operating armed troops and auxilliary forces of the 72nd IB of the AFP," it said.
The NPA unit merely "carried out counter-maneuvers" in response to movements by the AFP and government militia.
"NPA Red fighters immediately disengaged after disabling the enemy unit from carrying out further offensive action," the CPP said of the operation, which claimed the life of at least one government militia.
The CPP also noted that a truce with the government was "non-existent" because a "mutually signed ceasefire agreement" had yet to be inked.
Still, the CPP said it "has long expressed willingness to engage in a ceasefire for as long as there are peace negotiations." It noted that since June, it has been preparing a "draft for a unilateral ceasefire" ahead of peace talks with the Duterte administration.
"It was a different situation, however, when GRP President Duterte unilaterally declared a ceasefire even before it could fulfill its promises to release NDFP consultants and political prisoners," said the CPP, referring to one of the key points it wants to discuss during negotiations.
The CPP also insisted that despite pronouncements from the President, the military showed no signs of "letting up in their search-and-destroy operations and frenzied offensives that terrorize civilian communities." – Bea Cupin / Rappler.com