MANILA (UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday announced the end of the government’s ceasefire with the communist New People's Army (NPA) following a series of armed clashes in the past weeks and a disagreement over the release of hundreds of political prisoners.
The announcement came after the NPA announced that it will withdraw its own ceasefire last Wednesday.
"Kaya kagabi, I decided, I called [military chief] General [Eduardo] Año, and said ni-lift ang ceasefire tonight," Duterte said while in North Cotabato, citing "communists' unreasonable demands."
A visibly frustrated Duterte said achieving peace with the communists may no longer be possible in this generation.
“I guess peace with the communists cannot be realized during our generation,” said Duterte.
“I really would like to express my sadness. We cannot have a peaceful generation. There will be always be fights.”
Duterte, a self-proclaimed socialist, said he appears to have no other choice but to continue engaging the communist rebels in armed battles.
“Ang ibig sabihin, gusto niyo another 50 years (of fighting)? Wala nang katapusan? Eh kung walang katapusan eh di sige,” he said.
“But let it not be said that I did not try.”
The government and the communist panels’ disagreement over the release of about 400 political prisoners is one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the two sides’ respective ceasefire declarations.
The National Democratic Front (NDF), led by chief peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili, earlier called out the government during the third round of peace talks in Rome, Italy for not doing enough to release political prisoners.
Agcaoili’s counterpart, Silvestre Bello III, has been arguing that Duterte, who has vigorously pushed for an end to the communist rebellion, does not have full authority to release an estimated 400 political inmates.
In his speech Friday, Duterte said he could not agree to the demands of the communists to have the 400 prisoners released, saying a peace deal must be signed first before this happens.
Duterte said, the release of some of the communist leaders were enough at this point.
"I went out of my way to release as much as mga leader nila nasa Oslo, para lang makipag-usap. Now there is this demand na irelease ko yung 400 [political prisoners] e 'di parang nag-grant na ako ng amnesty (proclamation) niyan," said Duterte.
"I do not own the Republic of the Philippines. I do not decide alone. I consult people, particularly the military," Duterte added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana previously said the communist guerrillas' termination of its ceasefire declaration almost has no bearing since “they have not stopped extorting under the guise of their so-called revolutionary taxation, went on recruiting, burning buses and equipment, ambushing and kidnapping soldiers.”
The withdrawal of the ceasefire declares comes amid the looming fourth round of talks between the two sides this April and a scheduled discussion for a possible bilateral ceasefire this February.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza earlier called on Duterte to maintain the government’s unilateral ceasefire declaration with the communists as a goodwill gesture for the ongoing talks.
Bello, meanwhile, also said that agreeing on a bilateral ceasefire, despite the CPP-NPA’s withdrawal of its own ceasefire, is still possible.
A bilateral ceasefire between the two parties would have set guidelines and protocols for both sides, preventing armed clashes.
The breakdown of truce declarations came following a series of clashes between government forces and communist rebels, indicating the fragility of non-binding unilateral ceasefire declarations.
Communist rebels has repeatedly accused the military of abuses, such as encroaching on civilian facilities and rebel-held areas. Government troops, for their part, argued that no ceasefire rules were being violated because there was none to begin with.
The skirmishes led to the deaths of several soldiers, something that Duterte lamented.
“Pero kung ganoon lang naman na ang mga sundalo ko pinagpapatay, resume tayo, anytime,” he said.
“Ipagpatuloy natin ang gyera…. kaya sabi ko resume kayo, take your position and be alert. To the nation, I really tried, but the demands are too huge that it is impossible to meet.”