MANILA - The Philippine military will not pull out troops following President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
Duterte announced the unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army during his first State of the Nation Address on Monday, saying it is his "dream" to achieve lasting peace before the end of his term.
Duterte declares unilateral ceasefire with Reds
Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that after the President delivered his SONA, the Armed Forces immediately sent word across the country, from Aparri to Jolo, to inform all of their field units of the President's declaration.
Padilla clarified that the declaration does not necessarily mean a recall of all troops. He explained that soldiers need to man their posts in fulfilling the constitutional mandate of providing internal security.
"Hindi po nangangahulugan na magba-back to barracks tulad ng pagka-intindi ng karamihan. Ang mga sundalo na sa ngayon ay nakatalaga sa kanilang himpilan, hindi po yun. Ang mangyayari po ay isu-suspindi na po natin at ititigil na po natin lahat ng ating opensiba laban po sa hanay ng NPA," he said.
"Hindi po nangangahulugan na dahil ay magbababa kami ng aming pagbabantay. Ang Armed Forces po ay mananatiling alerto, mananatiling vigilant, mananatiling ready to defend itself kung saka-sakaling may mga grupong armado na manghihimasok sa kanilang mga lugar at manggugulo sa mga komunidad na kanilang pinoprotektahan," he added.
Padilla said the Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) does not also cover law enforcement operation, where the AFP play a supporting role to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
He said the military will continue to support the police in providing security to communities against lawless elements.
Military offensives against radicals and terrorists including kidnap-for-ransom groups in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi will continue.
"Ang operasyon po dyan ay patuloy pa rin, hindi pa rin po tinitigil," he said.
The communist insurgency has killed about 30,000 people since the 1960s.
The communists' armed wing, the New People's Army, is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen today, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.
But it retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its forces regularly kill police or troops while extorting money from local businesses.
Duterte, who assumed the presidency on June 30 after a landslide election win, said Monday it was time to stop the violence. "We are going nowhere and it is getting bloodier by the day," he said.
Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino revived negotiations soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of being insincere about a political settlement.
The talks collapsed after his government rejected the rebels' demand to release scores of their jailed comrades, whom they described as "political prisoners".
Duterte, who counts exiled rebel leader Jose Maria Sison as a friend, had said in recent weeks he was prepared to release 11 communist members to take part in the talks.
His aides have already held preliminary discussions with Sison and other senior communist leaders, during which they agreed to resume the peace process in Norway on August 20.
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines, one of the communist leadership groups, welcomed Duterte's ceasefire declaration and announced its readiness to reciprocate.
In a statement, it signaled it first wanted the amnesty for its detained rebels but that it expected this to happen by August 20.
PUSH FOR PEACE
Meanwhile, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said the President's declaration supports a push for the resumption of peace talks with the communist insurgency.
Negotiators of the Philippine government and CPP-NPA-NDF are set to resume formal talks in Oslo, Norway by August 20, 2016.
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said President Duterte's move exhibits the present administration's sincerity in pursuing peace with the communists.
"Mahirap naman yang nakipag-usap tayo sa CPP-NPA-NDF across the table, meron kayong pag-usapan anong pwedeng gawin natin, pagkatapos yung mga pwersa natin sa ground nagbabakbakan?" said Dureza.
He believes that if the President did not make a call for unilateral ceasefire, a conducive atmosphere for good negotiations across the table cannot be set.
Dureza is now anticipating a favorable response from the CPP-NPA-NDF. He believes that the rebels will most likely reciprocate President Duterte's actions.
"I expect that with a unilateral ceasefire in place, hintayin natin anong response ng CPP-NPA-NDF at kung anuman ang maging response nila, siguro pagdating dun sa August 20 na negotiation, resumption, baka pag-usapan na din yung mechanics. At hindi simple ha, mahaba ito," he said. With Agence France-Presse