Military to resume offensives vs NPA as holiday ceasefire lapses

MANILA, Philippines – Accusing communist guerrillas of violating a ceasefire they themselves called for, the military said it will launch fresh offensives after the truce lapses at midnight on Wednesday, January 8.

“They can expect that combat operations shall resume with more intensity and focus as soon as the clock strikes 12 midnight of 08 January 2020 without the need for orders from the new AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) chief Lieutenant General Felimon Santos Jr,” said AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo in a statement on Tuesday, January 7, the last day of the ceasefire.

The 16-day truce between government forces and guerrillas of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) began on December 23, 2019, after the government reciprocated a ceasefire declaration by the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which controls the NPA.

The gesture accompanied a plan to revive peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF, which President Rodrigo Duterte announced on December 5.

However, the military and police reported NPA attacks on their troopers on the first day of the ceasefire. An Army soldier was killed and 6 others wounded in an ambush in Labo, Camarines Norte, on December 23. Two policemen were wounded in another ambush in Tubungan, Iloilo.

The NPA also attacked civilians during the ceasefire, Arevalo said.

Two tribal leaders were killed for having “refused to follow the evil dictates” of the NPA, the military spokesman said: Bontola Mansinugdan of the Higaynon tribe in Esperanza, Agusan Sur on January 1, and Umayamnon tribe leader Sammy Diwangan in Cabanglasan, Bukidnon on January 4.

Arevalo said the NPA hit squad called “special partisan unit” or SPARU “launched operations” against civilians in Pantukan, Davao de Oro, on December 30, but government troops were able to stop the attack, killing two of the guerrillas and wounding another two. A government soldier and a member of a Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were wounded in the encounter.

The military considers these incidents violations of the ceasefire, Arevalo said, adding that they show the communists’ lack of sincerity in pursuing peace with the government.

Fight and talk

The military and other security officials voiced out their distrust in the CPP-NPA-NDF on Tuesday, saying they preferred ongoing “localized peace talks” with individual guerrilla fronts to the planned wholesale negotiations with the communist party.

Arevalo said efforts of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have reduced the NPA’s forces, with 10,918 guerrillas and supporters surrendered, apprehended, or killed in armed encounters in 2019.

Formed by Duterte in December 2018, the NTF-ELCAC has local government units negotiating with communist rebels, offering them incentives if they surrender, while the military puts pressure on their combatants.

If the government does pursue wholesale peace talks with the communist party leaders, the security establishment will unlikely recommend a ceasefire, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Tuesday.

“You can have peace talks without a ceasefire. We can fight and talk,” Lorenzana quipped.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, vice chair of the NTF-ELCAC, also expressed his objection to top level peace talks, saying the CPP-NPA-NDF’s preconditions to the negotiations put the government at a great disadvantage.

What the communists ultimately want is to put themselves in power, and peace negotiations would only buy them time to regroup and reinforce their ranks, Esperon said, citing a statement from NDF leader Luis Jalandoni.

The statements from the military, Lorenzana, and Esperon, both retired military generals, are a rare instance of Duterte administration officials expressing disagreement with the President.

However, they all said they would, in the end, defer to the commander-in-chief's orders.

Saying Duterte is aware of his apprehensions about the planned peace talks with the communists, Lorenzana added, “I also respect the decision of the President. If he wants to talk, that’s his decision, so we abide by the decision of the President that he wants to talk.” – Rappler.com

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.

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