Duterte asks communist rebels for ceasefire amid COVID-19 fight

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday called for a ceasefire with armed communist rebels as the country struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

In his second address to the nation amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Duterte asked the New People's Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to do their share by temporarily refraining from attacking government forces.

"'Wag ninyo munang galawin ang mga sundalo. Ano muna tayo, ceasefire lang. Ceasefire muna tayo. Ako na ang nanghihingi," Duterte said.

[Translation: Do not attack soldiers for now. Let's have a ceasefire. I am the one asking.]

"Kindly give me that... if you really want that we will be at all times on talking terms, in this time of crisis," he added.

Duterte walked away from the peace talks with communist rebels in 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations. The two sides are considering returning to the negotiating table, but Duterte and CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison could not agree on contentious issues, including the venue for the meetings.

Duterte appealed to the NPA, "Kindly cooperate and help... I will repay you with a good heart in the coming days."

Meanwhile, the police and military now play a vital role in the government's fight against COVID-19. Duterte has placed the entire island region of Luzon under "enhanced community quarantine," which includes the increased presence of police and soldiers to enforce travel restrictions.

The country now has 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 12 deaths. Three have recovered from the highly contagious disease.

READ: Filipino infected of COVID-19 recovers; two new cases reported

To prevent infection, authorities are urging people to practice regular hand washing, cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with those who exhibit virus symptoms.