MANILA – The Philippines’ communist New People’s Army rebels on Thursday rejected a unilateral ceasefire, which the president declared this week to allow the military to focus on the coronavirus outbreak.
“The militarist lockdown on the whole of Luzon is meant not to fight the COVID-19 pandemic but to intimidate the people, suppress democratic rights, commit human rights violations,” Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, said in a statement.
Sison, who has been living in exile in the Netherlands for three decades, criticized the “strict quarantine” Rodrigo Duterte imposed on Monday across Luzon – the country’s main island and home to the capital, Manila – and the increase in military controls.
According to the communist leader, the armed forces and the police “continue to redtag, abduct and murder social activists, including human rights defenders, in urban areas and to unleash attacks against the people in the guerrilla fronts of the New People’s Army.”
The unilateral ceasefire by the government came into effect at midnight on Thursday and will last until April 15 to allow the military to help in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
There are 202 confirmed cases in the Philippines and 17 deaths, although there are concerns that the country might have hundreds of undetected patients due to lack of resources.
Duterte came to power in 2016 with the promise of reviving the peace process with the left-wing rebels but the dialog process broke down on three occasions, the latest a year ago when the president shut down negotiations and ordered the military to “annihilate the enemy.”
However, a negotiation window was reopened in December and since then a few exploratory encounters have taken place in the Netherlands with Sison and the Communist Party’s leaders.
“There is communication going on between the GRP (government) and NDFP (rebels) negotiating panels. But there is yet no agreement for reciprocal unilateral ceasefires in connection with certain considerations, requirements and modalities,” Sison said.
On Friday, the highest military commander of the NEP, Julius Giron, was killed in a joint operation by the military and the National Police, in what is being considered a big blow to the group and a step towards ending the conflict by some analysts.
The NEP, formed in 1969 to fight against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, has around 3,900 regular fighters – although the number of its troops reached as high as 26,000 during the 1980s.
It has been involved in a deadly conflict for half a century that has resulted in around 43,000 deaths.