Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with the communist-led National Democratic Front is a welcome development that could pave the way for the resumption of formal peace talks to end the more than 50-year old insurgency in the country.
Coming shortly after the declaration of a state of calamity over the entire country for six months and the “enhanced community quarantine” over the entire island of Luzon from March 16 to April 14, the unilateral ceasefire from March 19 to April 15 will allow the national government to focus on fighting the new coronavirus. The virus, as of March 18, had already claimed 17 lives and infected more than 200 Filipinos.
The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. They have been waging armed struggle against the Manila government since 1968. The military believes the NPA has no more than 3,000 to 4,000 fighters at present, down from their peak strength of 25,000 in the 1980s.
While the NDF has yet to respond to Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration, a reciprocal move on their part would demonstrate its good faith and sincerity in going back to the negotiating table.
The Catholic Church and faith-based groups have been consistent in their stand that the two sides should resume formal peace talks, particularly to reach an agreement on socio-economic as well as political and electoral reforms before the cessation of hostilities and demobilization of rebel forces can be discussed.
Duterte has already directed the Department of National Defense and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, together with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, to cease and desist from carrying out offensive military and police operations during the ceasefire period.
The two departments shall issue corresponding orders to implement the declaration of the unilateral ceasefire, including the suspension of offensive military and police operations.
The unilateral ceasefire declared by Duterte will allow the government to provide immediate medical attention to those affected by the new coronavirus and take appropriate measures to contain its spread.
It is now up to the CPP-NPA-NDF to decide whether it will declare its own ceasefire, thus giving the nation the breathing space needed for the government to address an unprecedented public health emergency.
Containing the spread of the new coronavirus as soon as possible is imperative, because the contagion could bring the economy to its knees and lead to massive unemployment, which could further fuel political unrest.
As things now stand, with the lockdown in Luzon and economic activity at a near-standstill, many Filipinos, especially those living on the fringes of society, are already reeling from difficult circumstances that prevent them from earning a living and meeting their daily needs. This is a combustible situation that could get out of hand unless immediately addressed.
A ceasefire by both sides would offer a window of opportunity for both the government and the NDF to set aside their differences and work toward the resumption of formal political negotiations that, under five administrations, have been happening on and off since 1987.
We urge the Church, civil society groups and peace advocates to make their voices heard and convince the NDF to put down their guns and declare their own unilateral ceasefire. That would be their way of helping solve the public health emergency, while paving the way for restoring peace in our country.
A ceasefire could be just what the doctor ordered, not just to contain the new coronavirus, but also to bring about peace that has eluded the nation for more than half a century. It’s about time.
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.