MANILA, Philippines – The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has ordered its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), to observe a ceasefire with government forces as the country battles the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The truce will begin at 12 am Thursday, March 26, and will last until 11:59 pm on April 15.
This coincides with the ceasefire earlier declared by the Philippine government on March 19, which also lapses on April 15.
"The purpose of this unilateral ceasefire is to ensure and facilitate necessary, unhampered, and immediate medical, health, and economic assistance, support, and movement of the people brought about by the exigencies of the current [coronavirus] worldwide pandemic that has affected a growing number of Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike," the CPP said in a statement on the website of its political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF), on Tuesday night, March 24.
"This ceasefire is also a gesture towards national unity and based on humanitarian principles in the context of the serious public emergency to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all," the group added.
The ceasefire declaration is its "direct response" to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for an "immediate global ceasefire" to help conflict-stricken countries respond to the pandemic.
CPP-NPA-NDF founder and leader Jose Maria "Joma" Sison said earlier on Tuesday that he had set in motion the series of recommendations that would enable the CPP to declare a ceasefire.
President Rodrigo Duterte first asked the NPA for a ceasefire on March 16, as he announced that he would place the entire island of Luzon on lockdown to slow down the spread of the virus.
Sison hesitated to reciprocate Duterte's call, even when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana officially ordered the military to stand down on March 19.
Both sides have harbored distrust, with each accusing the other of violating earlier ceasefires. Lorenzana said communist guerrillas use ceasefires as an opportunity to regroup even as they continue harassing civilian communities and attacking government troops.
Now that they are on ceasefire, both sides instructed their forces to remain on guard against any possible attack from the other.
Duterte wanted a ceasefire to enable the police and military to focus on enforcing the "enhanced community quarantine" in Luzon and in other parts of the country where local governments have enforced the measure to contain the virus.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Philippines has recorded 552 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 35 deaths and 20 recoveries. – Rappler.com
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.