The Filipino president hopes that the other side will do the same. The peace process ended due to Maoist attacks. Leaders of various religious groups express support for the ceasefire. Anti-rebel paramilitary violence continues in Mindanao.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has unilaterally declared a ten-day ceasefire with Communist rebels to allow people to celebrate a “stress-free” Christmas, two weeks after peace talks with the insurgents broke down.
Duterte ordered the army and police to suspend offensive operations from 24 December to 2 January "to lessen the apprehension of the public this Christmas season", noting that he expected the Maoists and their political leaders to "do a similar gesture of goodwill."
Speaking to reporters, the president said he did not “want to add more strain to what people are now suffering".
There was no immediate reaction from the Communist rebel movement, whose top leaders and negotiators have been living in exile in The Netherlands since the late 1980s.
Duterte restarted a stalled peace process and freed several Communist leaders as a gesture of good faith when he came to office last year but he recently abandoned talks due to escalating rebel attacks.
The president has repeatedly accused the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), of duplicity, declaring them a "terrorist organisation” putting an end to the three-decade peace process.
The rebel forces, estimated to number around 3,000, have been waging a protracted guerrilla warfare in the countryside for nearly fifty years in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
Within hours of the president’s statement, leaders of various religious groups expressed support for the ceasefire.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), which brings together five Christian groups including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, called the truce "a wonderful gift to the Filipino family".
Despite the president's ceasefire, the situation in southern Philippines remains tense.
"At first, the news of the ceasefire was welcomed,” sources in Mindanao told AsiaNews said. “However, government-linked paramilitary groups such as the Magahat Bagani Force or the Citizens' Armed Forces Geographic Unit continue their abuses, unsettling local communities.
"They accuse tribal people of collaborating with the rebels and are engaged in acts of intimidation against humanitarian associations working with locals. They even threaten to shut down schools for children who cannot afford an education. Despite appeals by civil and military authorities, paramilitary groups feed tensions."
According to several human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, the regular army bears responsibility for covering up these abuses.
"As long as the army fails to control the armed groups, there can be no effective truce,” sources said. “It is important for us to stop this cockfight because it is a war between desperate people and does not help anyone.
“Small farmers are afraid, and cannot even work their land. The only hope for these people is to see peace talks between the government and the rebels restart.”
“To this end, civil society groups presented a ‘People’s peace agenda’ on 29 November to the authorities, security forces and armed groups. The proposal is the product of talks between the communities and sets guidelines for a true process of reconciliation."