Duterte announces ceasefire with communist rebels

By: Logan Connor - Posted on: July 26, 2016 | Current Affairs

Ahead of scheduled peace talks next month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a ceasefire between the government and communist rebels who have waged a bloody insurgency for nearly five decades

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night announced a ceasefire with the country’s communist rebels, a move that could put an end to a five-decade insurgency that has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.

The announcement came during Duterte’s first ‘State of the Nation’ address to congress. It precedes peace talks set to take place next month in the Norwegian capital of Oslo between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The NDF and the NPA are the political and armed wings of the CPP, respectively. The NPA is estimated to count fewer than 4,000 fighters among its ranks today, but remains involved in an armed struggle with Philippine forces.

“To immediately stop violence on the ground [and] restore peace in the communities… I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire,” Duterte said.

“We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal, that is my dream.”

An end to the conflict has been a regular talking point for Duterte’s fledgling administration. Last week, Duterte ordered the temporary release of several communist leaders prior to next month’s peace talks.

Ceasefire
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address. Photo: EPA/Francis R. Malasig

In May, prior to his election, Duterte said CPP founder Jose Maria Sison would be welcome to return to the Philippines to participate in peace negotiations after almost 30 years in exile.

“I welcome President Duterte’s announcement of unilateral ceasefire of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP [Philippine National Police] in relation to the NPA,” Sison told Philippine news site Rappler yesterday. Sison, now the chief political consultant of the NDF, has been living in exile in the Netherlands since peace talks failed in 1987.

“We share with President Duterte the determination to resume the formal talks and work for a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Professor Ramon Beleno III, chair of the political science and history department at Ateneo de Davao University, told Southeast Asia Globe that he was confident “the ceasefire will hold”. Beleno added he was optimistic about the deal and that the military and the police are now have “high morale” as a result of the announcement.

Duterte has drawn criticism for his political gaffes – including referring to the Pope as a “son of a bitch” – and his unapologetic sanctioning of the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals and drug addicts.

Despite this, Beleno said he believed most people in the Philippines were happy with the country’s direction under their new leader. “It’s only that these so-called extrajudicial killings will be [put] in a bad light,” said Beleno. “But I think his achievements will be more than [these killings happening] right now.”