AFP favors Yuletide truce
- James Mananghaya () - December 19, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines will recommend a suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) against the communist New People’s Army (NPA) during the holiday season as part of its military tradition, AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said yesterday.

Brawner said the AFP is proposing that the SOMO start on Christmas Eve up to Dec. 26, coinciding with the founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Brawner said they would also propose to extend the SOMO from New Year’s Eve until Jan. 2 next year.

“This is a yearly practice that we have been doing, to allow our troops and the people to celebrate Christmas because if there is peace during this time, we are able to celebrate Christmas in a peaceful manner. We do this every year, even without the consent of the other group,” he said.

AFP chief Gen. Victor Ibrado said he is inclined to recommend the SOMO to President Arroyo.

Ibrado, however, said it would be up to the National Security Council (NSC) to decide on the recommendation of the AFP.

Ibrado, during his visit to Army troops in Murcia, Negros Occidental, said the AFP would submit the SOMO recommendations to the NSC next week.

He said the holiday truce may also boost the attempt to revive the stalled peace talks with the CPP-NPA.

The NPA traditionally responds with their unilateral ceasefire declaration, taking the opportunity to allow the rebels to be with their families and loved ones during the holidays.

Last year, the government declared the SOMO with the NPA on Dec. 24 to 25 and on Dec. 31 to Jan. 1.

The AFP, however, continued intelligence-gathering and security patrols against the NPA even during the SOMO.

Since 1986, the government has observed a holiday ceasefire with communist rebels as the nation celebrates one of the world’s longest Christmas seasons.

The CPP-NPA has been waging a protracted Maoist insurgency for nearly 40 years, one of the longest in Asia that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people despite several attempts at peace negotiations.

President Arroyo has ordered the AFP to wipe out the communist insurgency before she steps down in 2010.

The rebels walked out of the peace talks after accusing the Philippine government of including the CPP and the NPA in the US and European lists of foreign terrorist organizations.

Brawner, on the other hand, said the holiday breaks of soldiers in the frontlines would depend on the prevailing security situation in their area of operation.

“The commanders determine if he could allow his troops to go on break,” he said.

Brawner noted the earlier statement of Marine commandant Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban that their forces in Basilan might not be allowed to go on holiday break due to the current security situation.

Troops are busy running after the Abu Sayyaf bandits who kidnapped a school official and those who attacked the provincial jail early this week.

As this developed, two militiamen were killed while another was wounded during an attack by NPA rebels in Barangay Sibahay in Cateel town in Davao Oriental.

Brawner said a civilian was also killed after being caught in the crossfire.

“It was done by more or less 20 communist rebels. They attacked the Sibahay Patrol Base in an attempt to overrun it,” he said.

Brawner said pursuit operations are underway to go after the NPA rebels in the area. –With Antonieta Lopez

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