PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday used his first State of the Nation Address to declare a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels.
Shortly after the address, the National Democratic Front vowed to reciprocate as they return to the negotiating table in Oslo, Norway in August.
“To the CPP/NPA/NDF, let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere. And it is getting bloodier by the day,” Duterte said.
“To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide an enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately and call on our fellow Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.”
Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the President’s initiative.
“I welcome President Duterte’s announcement of unilateral ceasefire of the AFP and PNP in relation to the NPA. Within the hour, the NDFP will issue a positive response. We share with President Duterte the determination to resume the formal talks and work for a just and lasting peace,” Sison told the Manila Standard.
Luis Jalandoni, the chairman of the NDF negotiating panel, said he has already written to Labor secretary and the chairman of the government peace panel Silvestre Bello III to affirm that the NDF looked forward to the resumption of formal talks in Oslo, from August 2 to 27.
Defense and military officials said they supported the President’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and hoped the communists would reciprocate.
“Our troops will comply but they will not put their guard down. The ceasefire will cover combat operations against insurgents but not against lawless armed groups. We expect the CPP-NPA-NDF to reciprocate,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya said he will immediately convene the military top brass to implement Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire on the ground.
“It’s happening and we are hoping for the best that genuine peace will finally be achieved after decades of fighting,” he said.
Earlier, Visaya defended Duterte’s appointment of leftists to his Cabinet, saying the President “knows what he is doing.”
Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano said they were also elated with the President’s commitment to peace with the communist rebels.
“The Army welcomes the pronouncement of the President for a unilateral ceasefire. We’ll do our part in the quest of finding a permanent peaceful resolution of this conflict,” he said.
“While we stop the conduct of offensive military operations, the Army will continue to serve its mandate through all other activities to ensure the protection and safety of the people and contribute in community development as well assist in the government’s fight against drug syndicates,” he added.
Before the ceasefire was announced, the government said negotiations would be pushed back to August to allow for the release of detained communist rebels that the NDF identified as consultants in the peace process.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said there could be a release of some 11 communist leaders who will join the Oslo talks.
Negotiations with the communists, which stalled in 2011, made progress in the early days of the Duterte administration after the two agreed to release the detained consultants.
In his first address, Duterte identified his top priorities: Charter Change, ending the armed conflict in different parts of the country; ending the drug menace; curbing the worsening traffic situation not only in Metro Manila but also in other parts of the country by using emergency powers that he asked Congress to grant him; and plans to revitalize the economy by lowering personal and corporate taxes and other fiscal measures.
On the hotly contested West Philippine Sea, Duterte vowed to affirm the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling to contribute to efforts for peaceful resolution of the sea dispute.
To help develop the country’s agriculture, Duterte said a national soil analysis will be done to optimize food production and that the government will strictly enforce laws on fishing and aquaculture.
In pushing for a federal, parliamentary form of government, Duterte said he supported the French model that retains a president and a prime minister for checks and balances.
He said if a Constitutional Convention could draft a new Constitution in two to three years that would be approved in a referendum, he would call for a new election and step down as President, even before his term ends.
Duterte also vowed to address global warming as a top priority, but said he would refuse to commit the country to restrictions that would hinder economic development.
In an apparent reference to his predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte called for national unity and an end to vindictiveness against political enemies which has stopped the country from moving forward.
“There will be no more finger pointing, vindictiveness is not in my system,” Duterte said.
“We have to help each other for then and only then can we truly prevail,” he said.
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