Holiday truce is imperative
As late as Dec. 5, the prospects of a Christmas ceasefire happening between the government and communist guerrillas were dim, given the dramatically deteriorated state of relations between the two parties. “The decision not to declare a suspension of military operations with the members of the New People’s Army over the Christmas holidays stays,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. “Our defenders would not stand down as there has been a call on the other side to launch offensives against state forces…” Yet he added: “We do not discount possibilities that there may be circumstances that may arise for government to reconsider its present position.”
Circumstances apparently did arise that made President Duterte change his mind. On Dec. 20, Malacañang announced a suspension of hostilities from Dec. 24, 2017, to Jan. 2, 2018, without interruption. Mr. Duterte said he decided on it, not for the rebels’ benefit, but for ordinary Filipino citizens who would want a peaceful breather for the holidays. “It is not addressed to the NPAs. Rather, I would want to celebrate Christmas with the rest of humankind or Filipinos, na walang (without any) stress,” he was quoted as saying.
The President appeared to have again made his decision without officially telling anyone, because it caught Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana off-guard. The Department of National Defense had recommended against a Christmas truce, citing the alleged continuing attacks by the NPA against government forces. It was reporters interviewing Lorenzana who broke the news to him of the President’s turnaround. A sheepish defense secretary could only respond: “Nag-declare na ba siya (Did he declare a ceasefire)? Well, we have to follow the directive of the President.”
The original ceasefire announcement has now been modified as well, with a specific time frame for the cessation of hostilities and no longer the uninterrupted period earlier declared. Roque said the truce would only be in effect from 6 p.m. of Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. of Dec. 26, and from 6 p.m. of Dec. 30 until 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 2. He also twitted Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Jose Maria Sison for having branded the government’s unilateral ceasefire gesture as a “sham.”
But the tradition of a temporary peace during the holidays, which has been observed by both sides since the late 1980s when the first Aquino administration launched formal talks with the communist rebels, has apparently taken deep root and cannot be ignored even when relations between the two parties are at their lowest ebb. Despite Sison’s earlier rejection of a ceasefire, the rebels eventually declared their own unilateral truce order, to take effect “from 6:00 p.m. of December 23 to 6:00 p.m. of December 26; and 6:00 p.m. of December 30 to 6:00 p.m. of January 2, 2018,” according to NPA spokesperson Ka Oris.
It remains to be seen whether the CPP declaration would hold throughout the country; rebels in southern Mindanao, for instance, have said there would be no truce on their part, and excoriated Mr. Duterte for his supposed “madman’s dream to place the country under a perpetual police state.” The NPAs in the south had once maintained cozy relations with the then mayor of Davao City. Now the group is engaged in fierce verbal sniping with their previous ally, with Mr. Duterte responding in kind, describing the NPA as “similar to the IS that has no ideology except to destroy and kill.”
Against this poisoned air and the virtual collapse of the peace talks, the observance of a Christmas truce between the two sides becomes even more imperative. Perhaps the pause in hostilities—on a holiday sacred to Filipinos—can nudge the sober minds on either camp toward the idea that talking to each other remains, always, the better option than the endless bloodbath of this enduring war.
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