CPP: 'Zero sincerity' in AFP chief Visaya's support for peace talks

MANILA, Philippines – The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hit the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday, July 31, the day after President Rodrigo Duterte took back a "unilateral ceasefire" over a clash between communist fighters and a government militia group earlier this week.

"Over the course of 5 days that the Duterte ceasefire declaration was in effect, there was zero compliance on the part of the AFP. Its public expression of support for the ceasefire declaration was not reflected on the ground. Not a single AFP command ordered its troops withdrawn back to their barracks," the CPP's Central Committee said in a statement on Sunday.

Duterte had earlier announced a "unilateral ceasefire" with the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).

Both the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) subsequently issued orders for their units to stop offensive operations against the communist rebels.

But the CPP said on Sunday that the AFP, particularly its "Palparan-trained" Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya, has "zero sincerity in his avowed support for peace talks and for the ceasefire declaration."

"In fact, in his 'suspension of offensive military operations,' he ordered AFP combat troops to continue with so-called 'civil-military' operations under Oplan Bayanihan, a euphemism for combat, psywar, surveillance, and intelligence operations targeting civilian communities," added the CPP.

The CPP was referring to now detained Major General Jovito Palparan, who was Visaya's superior when the former was 7th Infantry Division chief in charge of Army units in Central Luzon. Palparan has been tagged "berdugo (butcher)" by human rights activists.

Visaya has also had his fair share of controversy: he was the Army battalion commander during bloody clashes with Hacienda Luisita farmers in 2004. Visaya and former president Benigno Aquino III, then supposedly the manager of the Cojuangco estate, faced murder complaints but were later cleared before the Ombudsman.

Combat operations continued?

Days after Duterte's announcement of a ceasefire, communist rebels and government militia clashed in Davao del Norte, leaving one government fighter dead. But the CPP contests this narration, saying military units and paramilitary forces "were engaged in a combat operation."

"Combat units of the AFP have remained active in civilian communities throughout the country, from Isabela to Sorsogon, Northern Samar to Surigao del Norte, to Compostela and even in Duterte's home province of Davao del Norte where AFP combat troops continue to wage armed offensives. The NPA will soon issue a report on the matter," said the CPP.

Duterte called on the CPP-NPA-NDF to explain the clash and later gave them an ultimatum before finally taking back the ceasefire order.

The CPP said it was "quite capricious" for Duterte to issue "ultimatums of a few hours or several days for the CPP to act in accordance with his whims."

"It was quite disconcerting that the GRP President [Duterte] would impose such an inflexible ultimatum on the CPP. Despite his anti-crime bravado, it would seem he has shown the drug lords and protectors of criminal syndicates more flexibility and accommodation," the group added, taking a stab at the administration's campaign against crime, illegal drugs, and corruption.

The CPP also called on Duterte to "exercise a little more prudence and display more measured temperament as a way of appreciating the situation from a broader historical perspective in order to avoid such impulsive acts as imposing ultimatums by the hour on a conflict that has spanned nearly 50 years."

The government and the communist rebels are set to begin the first round of peace negotiations in Oslo on August 20. – Bea Cupin / Rappler.com