Duterte in catch-22
President Duterte’s lifting of the unilateral ceasefire he declared in his July 25 State of the Nation Address has caught him in a catch-22 situation. It serves as a go-signal for the military to proceed, even intensify its combat operations (which is a giant step back away from the long, much-desired peace with the communists) which badly affect communities in the countryside.
Notionally, a unilateral ceasefire can only be violated by the same party that declared it. So the Armed Forces of the Philippine’s claim of ambush and the New People’s Army’s (NPA’s) claim of self-defense should have been investigated under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, had the joint monitoring committee been operationalized.
Duterte’s commitment to peace will be measured in the next few weeks leading to the announced resumption of formal peace negotiations. Categorically, peace talks are a way to end decades of armed conflict. With socioeconomic reforms next on the agenda, the participation of National Democratic Front peace consultants—some of whom are currently held in government jails—is crucial and appropriate.
Pressuring the NPA to counter with its own ceasefire, when no military pullout or substantial political change had been effected yet, was amiss. No one can easily surrender a war of 50 years in five days. It would be wise next for the Duterte administration to regroup and focus on the release of peace consultants and political prisoners, as pledged in the Oslo Joint Statement of June 2016. And it will be wiser and prudent all the more to return to the table come August, reactivating all official mechanisms, to keep on talking and planning for a just and lasting peace.
Public Interest Law Center,
legal consultant, NDFP,
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