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Philippines: Violence Spoils Start of Christmas Truce with Communist Rebels

Froilan Gallardo and Nonoy Espina
Cagayan de Oro and Bacolod, Philippines
2019-12-23
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Guerrillas with the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, stand in formation during a ceremony to turn over captured government soldiers to officials and peace advocates in Matanao town, Davao del Sur province, Philippines April 19, 2017.
Guerrillas with the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, stand in formation during a ceremony to turn over captured government soldiers to officials and peace advocates in Matanao town, Davao del Sur province, Philippines April 19, 2017.
AFP

Suspected rebel attacks targeting military and police personnel on Monday marred the first day of a Christmastime ceasefire announced by the Philippine government and communist guerrillas, according to local media reports.

At least one government soldier was killed and six others wounded in a 9:20 a.m. attack on a combat patrol in Camarines Norte province, with military officials blaming the violence on the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), reports said. Attacks on government security personnel also took place Monday in Iloilo and Quezon provinces, according to reports.

Both sides had earlier announced a truce for the long end-of-year holiday season in the Philippines. The ceasefire in the predominantly Catholic country took effect at 12 a.m. Monday (local time) and was due to go till the morning of Jan. 8, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.

“[P]resident Rodrigo Roa Duterte has directed the declaration of a unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire with the coalition of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF),” the palace said.

President Duterte directed the military and police to immediately relay the order to their field units nationwide, the statement said.

“The President wishes that all Filipinos enjoy quietude and serenity as they celebrate the holiday season with their loved ones, free from violence or any form of disruption,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

Late Monday, however, it was not immediately clear whether the ceasefire was intact despite the reports of violence during the day.

The palace announced the truce in response to an earlier announcement by the National Democratic Front (NDF) of its own unilateral ceasefire for rebel actions during the holidays. The NDF is the political front of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a guerrilla war against Manila for 50 years.

The CPP-NPA said it had ordered its fighters to keep their guns silent during the holidays, although they would remain on heightened alert in case the government launched an anti-communist offensive.

“Active defense operations shall be undertaken only in the face of clear and imminent danger and actual armed attack by hostile forces,” the CPP’s ceasefire order said.

Religious leaders and other groups welcomed the ceasefire, saying it could lead to a resumption of talks.

“It’s a very positive step towards peace,” said Charlito Manlupig of the Balay Mindanaw Foundation, a civic group supporting talks between the government and the communist party.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of Iglesia Filipina Independente (IFI), or the Philippine Independent Church, said he hoped both sides would honor the ceasefire.

Balay Mindanaw and IFI are at the forefront of organizations in the southern Mindanao region calling for both sides to go back to the negotiating tables and end the conflict, which began in 1969.

President Duterte ended the peace talks with the communist rebels in 2017 and ordered the military to crush the rebels before his term ended in 2022.

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