Duterte ends truce with communist rebels

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday night, July 30, ordered the "immediate lifting" of the government's unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels.

Duterte issued the order two hours after his deadline on a reciprocal ceasefire declaration from the Communist Party of the Philippines lapsed without any action from the CPP.

"Let me now announce that I am hereby ordering the immediate lifting of the unilateral ceasefire that I ordered last July 25 against the communist rebels," the President said in a statement.

In line with the end of the government-declared ceasefire, the President also ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police "to also withdraw the operational guidelines they issued in pursuance to that ceasefire declaration."

"I am ordering all security forces to be on high alert and continue to discharge their normal functions and mandate to neutralize all threats to national security, protect the citizenry, enforce the laws and maintain peace in the land," he said.

NDF: 'Give us time'

Exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison called out Duterte on his "hasty" decision, and said the NPA was preparing to declare a ceasefire at 8 pm on Saturday.

Before the President issued the order, the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP's political arm engaged in peace negotiations with the government, said the CPP will reciprocate the government ceasefire but only after it completes its investigation on the incident that prompted the President's deadline.

NDF spokesman Fidel Agcaoili relayed this in a text message to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who chairs the government peace panel.

"Please give us time to finish our investigation of the incident as  reported by concerned NPA command. The CPP will reciprocate the President's ceasefire declaration," Agcaoili said in his message to Bello, which the latter shared with Rappler.

Duterte had warned that he would end the government's unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels if the deadline was not met.

On Friday afternoon, Duterte said the CPP should reciprocate the government’s unilateral ceasefire declaration by 5 pm on July 30. This was prompted by the New People's Army attack on government militias in Davao del Norte that killed one and hurt 4 others from the government side.

The President personally condoled with the family of slain Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU) member Panggong Kamonad at the headquarters of the 60th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Doña Andrea, Asuncion, Davao del Norte on Friday.

Duterte initially gave the CPP until Thursday midnight, July 29, to explain the NPA ambush just two days after he announced the government's unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels in his State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 25.

'Be patient'

Earlier, Sison had said that his side would reciprocate the government ceasefire, but explained it could not be done quickly.

Hours after Duterte set the Saturday deadline, Sison said the new Philippine president "should be patient and not expect quick surrenders from highly principled and experienced revolutionaries who have a growing mass base against the rotten ruling system of big compradors and landlords."

“It took at least 3 days for the Duterte government to make clear what is the content of its unilateral ceasefire order. The CPP and NDFP should be given enough time to study the implications and consequences of the GRP ceasefire order and what will soon be the unilateral ceasefire order," Sison said on Friday night.

Duterte had also demanded that CPP leaders punish those responsible for the attack. But on the same day Duterte set the deadline for the CPP's ceasefire declaration to Saturday afternoon, the NPA blamed the military, claiming it was only defending itself from government troops who were allegedly ignoring the government-declared truce with rebels.

Back to regular operations

Following the President's order AFP chief General Ricardo Visaya said, "I am ordering all our forces to  resume their normal mandated tasks and work to neutralize all threats to national security, protect the citizenry, enforce the laws and maintain peace in the land."

"This could have been what the Filipino nation had been waiting for – the silencing of the guns that could have hastened development especially in the countryside," Visaya added.

AFP spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said, "The NPA have missed a golden opportunity to manifest their commitment to the attainment of our citizen's much sought peace throughout the land."

Hours before the lifting of the ceasefire, the AFP announced the withdrawal of an elite unit from combat operations that day.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Deputy Commander of the Civil Relations Service of the AFP, said in a statement early Saturday afternoon that the Philippine Army had completed the pullout of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion from San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, on orders of AFP chief General Ricardo Visaya.

"[This] manifests the AFP's resolve to comply with the directive of the President to step back from the operational area where there are likely armed engagement between government security forces and members of the CPP-NPA-NDF," Arevalo said. – Rappler.com