Duterte declares ceasefire with communists amid coronavirus outbreak
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, March 18, declared a unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels a day after a broad lockdown in Luzon took effect to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the announcement Wednesday night, saying the ceasefire against the Communist Party of the Philippines, its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA), and political arm the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would take effect midnight of Thursday, March 19, until April 15, 2020.
"The President has directed the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police, to cease and desist from carrying out offensive military and police operations during the ceasefire period," Panelo said.
The DILG and DND have yet to issue an order implementing this, including the Suspension of Offensive Military and Police Operations or SOMO.
In a statement Wednesday night, AFP Chief of Staff General Felimon Santos Jr said the military supports Duterte's call, urging troops to "continue their keen focus on their mission to protect our people from and assist medical health practitioners in the fight against this dreaded disease."
Santos likewise sought to assure the public troops will be able to respond to any threat, if needed.
"While I direct the troops to observe guarded optimism, your AFP will not be deterred by similar treacherous attacks by Communist Terrorist Group. We will be there where and when we are needed," he said.
Impromptu wish: Duterte on Monday night, March 16, asked the NPA for a ceasefire during a briefing on the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Kindly give me that," Duterte said as he continuously switched from a prepared statement on government measures to spontaneous talk on other topics.
Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, the exiled founder and figurehead of the communist rebellion, said Duterte has to make a formal offer through the government negotiating panel to the NDFP if he is "serious" with his call.
Duterte had repeatedly offered to negotiate with communist rebels but likewise named them terrorists.
Duterte earlier said the ceasefire is needed so that the Philippine government, including uniformed personnel, can focus on combating the novel coronavirus.
"Through this ceasefire, the Philippine government aspires that the swift provision of public health assistance goes unimpeded with the movement of health workers and medical supplies to communities, as well as of people in need of immediate medical attention remains unhampered," Panelo said.
As of Wednesday, the Philippines has reported 202 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 7 recoveries and 17 deaths.
The global death toll, meanwhile, has reached 7,873, with 3,237 of the fatalities in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau). The number of cases worldwide has risen to 194,000, with more than 80,894 of the infections in China. The virus has spread to at least 150 countries. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com