Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The government will maintain its unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels even after the New People's Army (NPA) announced the termination of its ceasefire with the government beginning February 10, Malacañang said on Wednesday, February 1.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella made the announcement hours after Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza told troops in Cagayan de Oro City that he would ask President Rodrigo Duterte to keep the government's unilateral ceasefire with the rebels despite the NPA announcement.
"The President will continue to exercise strong political will to move forward with the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF, despite the revocation of the unilateral ceasefire by the NPA," Abella said in a statement on Wednesday.
He added, "Furthermore, the Department of National Defense (DND) will continue to observe the government’s unilateral ceasefire, at the same time enforce the campaign to protect civilians from harm and terrorism."
At the anniversary of the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City on Wednesday, Dureza said he "will recommend to the President to maintain the unilateral ceasefire."
Dureza made the statement a few hours after the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, announced it has ended its 5-month-old ceasefire following a series of skirmishes with the military. (READ: Soldiers report skirmishes with NPA in 7 areas)
The NPA said while it is ending the ceasefire effective February 10, the peace negotiations will continue.
In a statement sent to media that day, Dureza said while the government is "dismayed" by the NPA's announcement, it respects the decision.
He said the ceasefire withdrawal comes after both the government and NDF negotiating panels agreed to further discuss a possible bilateral ceasefire declaration.
"This cancellation came just after some progress were made in the 3rd round of peace talks in Rome where negotiating panels from both sides agreed to further discuss a bilateral ceasefire in The Netherlands sometime end of this month," Dureza said.
Maintaining the government's ceasefire however, would be ideal in order to "provide an enabling and conducive environment to the on-going peace talks," he insisted.
The recent skirmishes between the NPA and military that led to the ceasefire terminal prove the necessity of a bilateral agreement with set guidelines agreed upon by both sides, he added.
"We agree that the situation, with various incidents on the ground, had become untenable to sustain without the guidelines and protocols that a bilateral ceasefire provides. This gives more impetus and encouragement to our earnest task of forging a sustainable ceasefire agreement," said Dureza.
Operations vs kidnapped soldier
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who was also in Cagayan de Oro, said that government troops would fight back if harassed by the rebels.
Lorenzana also said that if the NPA members harass communities or commit crimes, "then they would become lawless elements, the police will come after them."
The defense chief also said that there were efforts to recover Private First Class Erwin Salan, who was abducted by the NPA as he led youth volunteers in a forest clean up drive in Alegria, Surigao del Norte, on January 29, 2017.
“We will recover our man. They cannot just kidnap people. If you do, then you are a law breaker; the police and the AFP will come after you,” Lorenzana said. – With reports from Pia Ranada and Bobby Lagsa/Rappler.com