Fr Peter Geremia speaks about renewed talks between the government and the New People's Army. About 150,000 people have died in 50 years of guerrilla war. President Duterte announced the ceasefire in his first state of the nation address. “It was high time to end this conflict” that harms “civilians caught between the two sides.”
Manila (AsiaNews) – The ceasefire between the Filipino government and Communist rebels "is great news. We thank God that he heard all the prayers for peace,” said Fr Peter Geremia, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Mindanao, reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s ceasefire announcement with the News People's Army, which has been battling the Filipino government for almost 50 years.
The president made his statement yesterday during his first state of the nation address, confirming his willingness to reach "permanent peace" before his six years in office come to an end. Communist leaders welcomed the announcement.
"The great founder of the movement, Jose Maria Sison (who is in self-imposed exile in Europe), has agreed to the ceasefire,” Fr Geremia said. “Many other rebel chiefs have participated in several forums and consultations with members of the government. Soon there will be a full peace accord."
Addressing the New People’s Army guerrillas, new president, who was sworn in on 30 June, said, “Let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere and it is getting bloodier by the day.”
“Let me make this appeal to you,” he added. “If we cannot as yet love one another, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much.”
Filipino communist guerrillas have been fighting the Filipino government since 1968 in what has become Asia’s longest and bloodiest armed rebellion. In almost 50 years, at least 150,000 people, military and civilians, have been killed.
Peace talks between the two sides have been held the Netherlands, but they were interrupted in 2004.
Attempts by former President Benigno Aquino, who had made negotiations with Communist rebels one of the first goals of his mandate, floundered in April 2013, rekindling the fight with new intensity.
“The people of Mindanao are very happy about this agreement,” Fr Geremia said. “Those who suffer the most from this conflict are tribals and Muslims, small mountain peasants, civilians caught between the two sides. It was high time to end this conflict that made no sense and go back to negotiations."
Filipino generals welcomed Duterte’s decision, announcing that they will remain alert, vigilant and ready to defend themselves and hunt down attackers, if they are challenged by armed elements of the New People's Army.
However, not everyone is happy with the ceasefire, warns Fr Geremia. "There are groups within military and the government who want to wreck the negotiations. Some groups of paramilitary fanatics in the mountainous areas have weapons and the support of some politicians. It is not yet clear whether they will turn to banditry or be used to continue the fight against Communist rebels."
Still, President Duterte “did in a month what the Aquino government could not achieve in six years,” the missionary said.
“Aquino would always put off negotiations after peace proposals were made. Duterte however comes from Mindanao, where the situation of conflict is every day life, and has many contacts with the rebels."