Joma Sison open to COVID-19 ceasefire after UN call

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 24 2020 01:56 PM | Updated as of Mar 24 2020 03:51 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Communist leader Jose Maria Sison said Tuesday he would recommend that rebels declare a unilateral truce in response to the United Nation’s call for a global ceasefire in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sison said he would recommend that the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) declare a unilateral ceasefire so that Filipinos can look after their own health. The Philippines is under a state of public health emergency, and state of calamity due to the virus threat.

The exiled communist leader made the statement a week after President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral truce effective on March 19 until April 15 as state forces were sent to man borders and enforce guidelines of the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“The NDFP and the broad masses of the people themselves need to refrain from launching tactical offensives to gain more time and opportunity to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and to look after the health and over-all welfare of the people in both urban and rural areas,” Sison said in a statement.

Malacañang welcomed Sison’s remarks as a “positive development” with Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo saying “it is about time they join the collective efforts of the nation to fight the spread of the coronavirus.”

“At this crucial time, the Filipino people deserve and need a safe and peaceful environment where there is unimpeded movement of health workers, medical supplies, food and other needs and services, in view of the current state of calamity and public health emergency. We therefore welcome the cooperation of all, including those in the Left, to realize our goal of absolute peace during these times,” Panelo said.

“The Palace looks forward that they would make good -- and stay true to -- their words,” he added.

Last week, Sison said rebels are not assured of the government's ceasefire declaration over the pandemic, a remark that Panelo said reflects the communists’ “insensitivity” to the public health crisis.

Sison on Tuesday however explained that he doubted the government’s truce declaration last week because of the alleged persistent red-tagging, and offenses launched by the national government.

The Duterte administration’s supposed lack of preparations for the pandemic, and failure to provide mass COVID-19 testing also prompted him to initially reject a ceasefire declaration, Sison said.

“The NDFP has also refused to reciprocate the bogus unilateral ceasefire declaration of the GRP in order to avoid appearing as directly condoning and becoming complicit in the criminal culpabilities of the Duterte regime for allowing the COVID-19 to spread nationwide since January…” he said.

President Duterte has asked Congress for additional powers to enable the government to respond better to the pandemic.