Jorge Madlos, alias Ka Oris
New People’s Army (NPA) spokesperson Jorge Madlos, using the alias Ka Oris, announced on Friday that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) had ordered a ceasefire “in observance of the Filipino people’s traditional holidays and the CPP’s 49th anniversary” on Dec. 26.
In a statement, Madlos said “all NPA units and people’s militias shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military campaigns and operations” against government forces from 6 p.m. on Dec. 23 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 26 and from 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 to 6 p.m. on Jan. 2.
The NPA’s two-part ceasefire matched the same time frame of the truce ordered on Thursday by President Duterte, but shorter by about 12 hours.
“We wish the whole nation a peaceful Christmas and New Year,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said following the NPA announcement.
“We expect that the CPP-NPA would honor their word and comply with the unilateral ceasefire, so that our people could truly experience a peaceful Christmas celebration,” he said.
Both Roque and Madlos said both sides would remain vigilant.
Madlos said the rebels were wary of the military’s alleged “treachery, attacks and deception” during previous government-declared unilateral ceasefires.
The NPA leader also said soldiers and policemen “who have no serious liabilities other than their membership in their armed units” would be allowed to enter rebel-controlled areas “to make personal visits to relatives and friends” during the holidays.
Mr. Duterte went ahead with the ceasefire over the “adamant” opposition of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
The President ordered the truce despite his decision last month to scrap the peace negotiations to end nearly half a century of communist insurgency in the Philippines, one of the most protracted in Asia, and to designate the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations.
Mr. Duterte said he terminated the talks with the rebels and declared them terrorists because of continued guerrilla attacks, even while talks brokered by Norway were underway.
The ceasefire declarations were welcomed as a way to revive the talks.
“That is welcome news,” Cagayan de Oro Bishop Antonio Ledesma said. “Hopefully it can lead to a resumption of the peace talks.”
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Bataan, praised the truce, saying “the best Christmas gift to one another is peace.”
“We appreciate the good intentions of the government in exerting all efforts to forge peace,” Santos said.
Appeal to both sides
The activist priest, Fr. Robert Reyes, appealed to both sides to “ensure sincerity and commitment to their promised ceasefire.”
“We call on both parties to give true peace a chance not only through a temporary ceasefire but a more vigorous return to the table of dialogue,” Reyes said. “The violence of war attains more violence. The peace of dialogue attains peace.”
Mayor Joselito Ojeda of Mulanay town in Quezon province said the fate of the talks depended on the Christmas ceasefire.
He said that in the “total war” between the rebels and the government, “the ultimate loser is the people and their hope for better future for their families and their communities.”
CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, the chief political consultant for rebel peace negotiators, earlier said it would be “unwise and illogical” for the CPP to order the NPA to declare a truce following the termination of the talks and the terrorist tagging.
But Sison, who has been living in exile in the Netherlands since 1987, said the decision to declare a holiday ceasefire still rested with the CPP leadership.
Government forces and NPA rebels have previously declared separate unilateral ceasefires during the Christmas season. The ceasefires, however, have ended with both sides swapping accusations of violations. —WITH REPORTS FROM DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., ALLAN NAWAL, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, JULIE M. AURELIO, AFP