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Duterte does a delicate balancing act

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Pres. Duterte announces the lifting of the unilateral ceasfire with the NPAs in Asuncion, Davao del Norte. Photo by Rene Lumawag/PPD
Pres. Duterte announces the lifting of the unilateral ceasfire with the NPAs in Asuncion, Davao del Norte. Photo by Rene Lumawag/PPD


LAST Monday, July 25, in his first State- of-the- Nation- Address, President Duterte was applauded when he declared a unilateral ceasefire in the armed conflict with the communist rebels.

He said: “To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately.  And call on our Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.”

Before the week ended, he withdrew that headline grabbing announcement. At 7 p.m. of Saturday, July 30, Presidential Spokesperson Ernie Abella read the President’s statement:

“Let me now announce that I am hereby ordering for the immediate lifting of the unilateral ceasefire that I ordered last July 25 against the communist rebels.

“Correspondingly, I am ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to also withdraw the operational guidelines they issued in pursuance to that ceasefire declaration.”

In a statement issued Sunday, the CPP said it was set to issue reciprocal ceasefire declaration at around 8 p.m. also on Saturday.

“It was quite capricious for the GRP President to have imposed such ultimatums of a few hours or several days for the CPP to act in accordance with his whims. It was quite disconcerting that the GRP President would impose such an inflexible ultimatum on the CPP. Despite his anti-crime bravado, it would seem he has shown the drug lords and protectors of criminal syndicates more flexibility and accommodation,” the Party said.

Jose Ma. Sison.
Jose Ma. Sison.

The CPP reiterated the advice of its founder, Jose Ma. Sison to Duterte, “ to exercise a little more prudence and display more measured temperament as a way of appreciating the situation from a broader historical perspective in order to avoid such impulsive acts as imposing ultimatums by the hour on a conflict that has spanned nearly fifty years.”

In an interview with Radyo Inquirer, Sison  didn’t hide his irritation towards his former student,”Masyadong butangero yang si Duterte at gusto niya ay gulo agad….kung ayaw niya ng katahimikan eh di huwag…”

Cooler heads are now trying to manage the situation. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza issued a statement giving the government’s version of what went wrong.

Dureza  said the day after the President announced and unilateral ceasefire and expecting the  NDF to “respond accordingly,” the Left’s umbrella organization “instead of issuing its expected declaration said they could not do so as yet as they were waiting for the precise written orders on the ceasefire. In immediate response, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and subsequently the Philippine National Police issued their respective policy guidance in writing on how they would carry on with a ceasefire in place. Copies thereof were sent immediately to the NDF in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Yet in spite of this, there was still no declaration from them.”

Sison, in a statement, said, “The Central Committee of the CPP has to study these defective issuances of the AFP and PNP and also find out whether current political prisoners shall be released through general amnesty.

“President Duterte should be patient and not expect quick surrenders from highly principled and experienced revolutionaries who have a growing mass base against the rotten ruling system of big compradors and landlords. It took at least three days for the Duterte government to make clear what is the content of its unilateral ceasefire order. The CPP and NDFP should be given enough time to study tbe implications and consequences of the GRP ceasefire order and what will soon be the CPP unilateral ceasefire order to the NPA.”

Dureza related that something happened on July 27 that made Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire shaky: “The following day, July 27 a firefight happened between the NPAs and elements of the AFP civilian auxiliary in Davao del Norte resulting to the death of a civilian auxiliary force member and the wounding of 3 others. The President then called on the CPP/NPA/NDF again to explain why this happened in the midst of his ceasefire declaration.”

The New People's Army. From PWRC
The New People’s Army. From PWRC

It must be noted that Duterte has been making the rounds of military camps since the third week of July explaining his policy of giving the Left a major role in his government while telling them of the increase of benefits that they will be receiving upon his orders.

The President is doing a delicate balancing act. He knows what happened during the administration of Corazon Aquino who had to repel several coup attempts fueled by the military’s  resentment of her “Leftist” advisers.

On Thursday, July 28, he went to Camp Nakar in Lucena, the base of the Armed Forces’ Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM). Philippine National Police officials assigned in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (CALABARZON) joined the soldiers.

From Camp Nakar, he proceeded to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, and headquarters of the Philippine Army’s Second Infantry Division.

In Camp Nakar, he explained: “ Meron tayong development sa ating bayan. I know that it is a… Medyo resistant kayo to accept it because of the historical — ‘yung sakit. Maraming namatay sa inyo, pero bagamat marami ring namatay sa mga komunista. But as President, I have to seek peace for our country. Not only with the communist insurgency but doon rin sa Muslim insurgency.

“Mahirap tanggapin na mukhang ang labas niyan is patawaran nang lahat. Alam ko medyo hindi madali tanggapin ‘yan. But, as a President and Commander-in-Chief, I have to think of the Republic of the Philippines and the whole of the people in this country. Hindi pwede na estudyante pa ako pati hanggang ngayon nagpapatayan; and we continue to lose men, good men, mga sundalo pati pulis, until now.”

He assured the soldiers that he will support them the way he supported his policemen in Davao.

“I never allowed any police officer or the ordinary patrol man to go to prison for performing the duty. I would like to reiterate now that policy and to include the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines na basta magtrabaho lang kayo, in accordance with your mandate wala kayong problema. Wala talaga ikaw problema because I will be there. Sinabi ko sa SONA — to be with you.

“I will protect you and I will answer for the things that I ordered na gawin mo. Sinabi ko ito ‘yan, gawain mo ‘yan, at ika’y nagkakaroon ng kaso, masabit ka, wala ka talagang problem. Forget about the problem because I will answer for you personally and officially.”

Four-year-old Allih Hachaso, son of Police Officer 3 Eric Hachaso, gives President Duterte a snappy salute duting the latter’s visit at Camp Nakar, Lucena City July 28. Photo by Toto Lozano, PPD
Four-year-old Allih Hachaso, son of Police Officer 3 Eric Hachaso, gives President Duterte a snappy salute duting the latter’s visit at Camp Nakar, Lucena City July 28. Photo by Toto Lozano, PPD

That’s why on Friday, when he went to the  60th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Asuncion, Davao del Norte, he made sure he condoled with the widow of the slain CAFGU Panggong S. Komanod.

That’s where he announced the final deadline of 5 o’clock July 30 for the CPP/NPA/NDF to reciprocate with a ceasefire declaration.

Dureza said, “It is very clear that the President walked the extra mile for peace. And no doubt, he will still continue to do so at any given opportunity.”

The peace talks will resume on August 20-27 in Oslo, Norway.

The CPP statement mentioned about the President re-issuing  a ceasefire declaration “simultaneously with a similar unilateral declaration by the CPP and NPA on August 20.”