MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has changed the dates of government’s unilateral ceasefire with communist guerrillas even as his defense chief was hesitant to suspend military operations against the rebels.
In a press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said government’s unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA) will now run from 6 p.m. of December 23 to 11:59 p.m. of December 26, and will resume at 6 p.m. of December 30 until 11:59 p.m. of January 2.
Malacañang previously announced that the suspension of military operations would run straight from December 24 to January 2.
Roque could not say why the dates were changed, adding that “the President doesn’t have to explain.”
He had previously said the Palace hopes that the NPA “would do a similar gesture of goodwill.”
The unilateral ceasefire, which the government declares annually over the holidays, comes amid tensions between the state and the communist movement in the wake of the recent collapse of peace negotiations.
However, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria Sison called the ceasefire a “sham.” He said the communist movement's armed wing, the New People's Army, would remain on alert "against deception."
“Kung totoong hindi sasalakay ang AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) at PNP (Philippine National Police), walang tatambangan ang NPA. Pero malamang na pakunwari ang SOMO (suspension of military operations). Alerto lang ang NPA laban sa panlilinlang, pagsalakay at okupasyon ng kaaway sa mga baryo. Ang AFP at PNP naman ang mananalakay at mananakop,” Sison said in a post on his Facebook page.
In response, Roque said people should be thankful for Duterte’s push for a unilateral ceasefire even if “he could have ignored it completely and not declare anything.”
“But I felt that it was a right decision because finally, I personally felt it’s Christmas with the announcement. If Joma Sison did not feel any spirit of Christmas because of the [SOMO], well, I feel sorry for him then. That’s what happens when you’re not here in the Philippines anyway,” Roque said, of the communist leader who has long been in exile in the Netherlands.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was against the SOMO but nonetheless would abide by the President’s orders.
Duterte terminated peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in November amid the NPA’s continued attacks on state troops.
He then declared the CPP-NPA a terror organization and ordered the arrest of its high-ranking officials earlier released temporarily from detention to participate in the peace talks.
The President in recent weeks has been lashing out at the NPA for its attacks on government troops, the latest of which was on soldiers conducting relief operations in Northern Samar.
He likened the the NPA to international terror network Islamic State, which he said is bereft of any ideology.