By Martin Sadongdong
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) led by Jose Maria “Joma” Sison have heeded the call of the United Nations (UN) for a global ceasefire amid the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
General Felimon Santos Jr., AFP Chief of Staff, said he “could not agree more” with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ plea for an immediate ceasefire in conflicts around the world so that countries may turn their attention to fighting the dreaded disease.
Last March 19, the Philippine government (GRP) declared a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-New People’s Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) after President Duterte appealed to the communist groups to stop their attacks on troops and help the government in dealing with the virus that has since claimed at least 35 lives. The GRP ceasefire will last until April 15.
“The AFP, from its leadership down to the last element on the ground, adheres to it religiously,” Santos said.
On Tuesday night, the CPP Central Committee also heeded the call of the UN Chief as it ordered all NPA commands, units, and the “people’s militias” to observe a nationwide ceasefire from March 26 to April 15.
“The broad masses of the people themselves need to refrain from launching tactical offensives to gain more time and opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and to look after the health and overall welfare of the people in both urban and rural areas,” the CPP said.
Sison had earlier refused to reciprocate GRP’s ceasefire offer and called it “insincere and bogus.”
He said he wanted to prevent the party from being complicit in the “criminal culpabilities of the Duterte regime,” claiming that the administration allowed the COVID-19 “to spread nationwide,” made “lockdowns on communities yet failing to provide mass testing and treatment of the sick, food assistance, and compensation for those prevented from work.”
While the GRP and CPP announced the ceasefire, Santos and Sison still alerted their troops to be vigilant against possible attacks.
Major General Ernesto Torres, AFP’s Civil Relations Service chief, backed Santos’ statement that the military will suspend its military operations against the communists.
Torres said the CPP-NPA-NDF should instead use the current crisis to show their sincerity and concern for the masses.
“Let this be a moment for them to reflect on the true meaning of peace and patriotism so that we, altogether, [can] collectively work to combat COVID-19,” Torres said.
“Sana lang talaga ay maging sincere na sila (I really hope that they will be sincere) not only for the period of COVID-19 but forever,” he added.
In the past three years, Duterte and the CPP-NPA-NDF have repeatedly engaged in numerous peace talks in a bid to end the country’s more than 50-year-old problem on communist insurgency.