Duterte declares unilateral ceasefire with CPP-NPA to focus on COVID-19 fight

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government forces to stop offensive operations against armed communist rebels so the state can focus on efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

Duterte on Wednesday declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People's Army, effective March 19 to April 15.

"The President has 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," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

The document on the Suspension of Offensive Military and Police Operations will be issued soon, Panelo said.

"Through this ceasefire, the Philippine Government aspires that the swift provision of public health assistance goes unimpeded with the movement of health workers and medical supplies to communities, as well as of people in need of immediate medical attention remains unhampered," Panelo added.

Both the police and the military welcomed the move, saying that this will allow them to focus on responding to the threat of COVID-19. However, they will be on guard and will defend themselves in case of any attack.

Duterte on Monday night called for a ceasefire with communist rebels. CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison said the proposal would be seriously studied by the National Democratic Front which represents the rebels in peace negotiations.

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

The NPA has waged a five-decade armed insurgency, the longest running in Asia.

Duterte on Monday appealed to the NPA, "'Wag ninyo munang galawin ang mga sundalo. Ano muna tayo, ceasefire lang. Ceasefire muna tayo."

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

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 202 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 17 deaths. Seven have recovered from the highly contagious disease.

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.