MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday revised its declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels over the holidays.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the ceasefire would only be in effect from 6 p.m. of Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. of Dec. 26, and from 6 p.m. of Dec. 30 until 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 2.
“The President asked me to announce it at our Cabinet Christmas party. But it is always the President’s prerogative to change his decision. That’s part of the executive power,” Roque said when asked what prompted the President to change his mind.
Duterte on Wednesday ordered the suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) against the communist New People’s Army (NPA), supposedly to take effect from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2.
The Christmas ceasefire has been a customary move by both sides since the launch of formal talks in the late 1980s under the first Aquino administration.
Duterte’s declaration of SOMO will be in effect despite ending peace talks and branding the NPA, Communist Party of the Philippines and National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) as “terrorists.”
Duterte said he is hoping that the communists would reciprocate his gesture.
CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, however, branded the unilateral ceasefire gesture as a “sham” and ordered the NPA to guard against attacks by government forces.
“The President doesn’t have to explain. In fact, Joma Sison is calling it a sham. We should be thankful that the President is pushing through with the unilateral ceasefire,” Roque said.
“He could have ignored it completely ‘no, and not declared anything. But I felt that it was a right decision because finally, I personally felt it’s Christmas with the announcement,” he said.
Roque took a dig at Sison for having no Christmas spirit.
“I feel sorry for him then. That’s what happens when you are not here in the Philippines anyway,” he said.
A waste of time
The NPA in southern Mindanao also rejected the government’s ceasefire offer and even resorted to calling Duterte a madman.
In a statement, Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesman for the NPA’s Medardo Arce Command, said Duterte wasted the “confidence and goodwill of the people of Southern Mindanao” in extending martial law.
“Duterte foolishly and carelessly wasted the confidence and goodwill of the people of Southern Mindanao towards him when he bludgeoned the sycophantic Congress to extend once again the martial law in Mindanao and reinforce the current police state responsible for the mass murder not only in the island but in the whole country as well,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez called Duterte a madman, a “drug-crazed monster” and the country’s number one terrorist.
“He should rightly be referred in the annals of Philippine history as the Adolf Hitler of the South, capable of exterminating millions of Filipinos should he continue to sit in power for the next four and a half years,” he said.
The military, for its part, said it would abide by the President’s ceasefire declaration but would not lower its guard against treacherous attacks by the rebels.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is also wary that the communists would attack police stations in taking advantage of the government’s unilateral ceasefire declaration.
“That is what we are monitoring because police stations are the most vulnerable,” PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa explained that while there is a need to beef up security at police stations especially in the provinces, the measures put in place should not scare people.
“You can’t put barbed wires to make a police station look like garrison,” he said.
“You have to make the stations people-friendly because people visit there to lodge a complaint.”
Dela Rosa clarified law enforcement operations against insurgents with existing arrest warrant will continue during the ceasefire.
“If they are covered with warrants of arrest, then they will be arrested,” he said.
Former Armed Forces chief and now Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Eduardo Año said the PNP should not drop its guard and stay vigilant ahead of the 49th founding anniversary of the CPP on Dec. 26.
DILG officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy called on the PNP to remain vigilant as they perform their law enforcement functions despite the government’s declaration of a holiday ceasefire with the NPA.
Department of National Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong appealed to the rebels to use the Christmas holidays to reflect on and reconsider their position in fighting the government.
“We urge those who are waging war against our sovereign government and inflicting harm on the Filipino people to spend this period in reflection and seriously reconsider returning to the fold of law,” Andolong said.
On the other hand, around 700 rebels joined Duterte in taking their oath of allegiance in Davao City yesterday.
Officials said the former NPA rebels came from the provinces of Agusan, Bukidnon, Surigao, Davao, Cotabato and Sarangani.