This photo from state-run Philippine News Agency shows an anti-communist rally at the EDSA Shrine on December 26, 2019. December 26 marks the anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Facebook/Philippine News Agency
Palace: Reds must explain attacks during ceasefire
Alexis Romero ( - December 26, 2019 - 5:30pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday condemned attacks allegedly staged by New People's Army guerillas in two provinces last Monday and demanded that the rebels explain why the incidents took place despite the declaration of the holiday ceasefire.

Military officials said communist rebels launched offensives in Camarines Norte and Iloilo on the first day of the 16-day holiday ceasefire, killing one soldier and injuring eight government troopers.

A report by Joint Task Force Bicolandia said one soldier died and six others were hurt when members of the NPA, the armed wing of the communists, ambushed troops from the 92nd Division Reconnaisance Company in Labo, Camarines Norte. Minutes after the attack, two policemen were hurt when another group of guerillas fired at a police vehicle in Tubungan, Iloilo.

In a statement on December 24, the communist party's information bureau confirmed that there were "armed encounters" but also said these were not ceasefire violations.

READ: NPA stages ambush on Day One of truce

"These were defensive actions by the NPA units involved in the face of armed attacks and sustained military operations by the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the [Philippine National Police] (special operations unit), as attested to in separate statements issued by the Romulo Jallores Command, New People's Army, Bicol, and the Napoleon Tumagtang Command, New People's Army, Southern Panay," the Communist Party of the Philippines said.

The NPA units said they were responding to ongoing government operations in Labo, Camarines Norte, in Donsol, Sorsogon, and in Tubungan, Iloilo.

The communist party also pointed out that the government has yet to furnish the National Democratic Front of the Philippines the ceasefire orders that the government supposedly issued to the military and police.

"We condemn...the violation of the ceasefire agreement. You must remember that it was them who declared a unilateral ceasefire and that has also been violated," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press briefing.

"But nevertheless, we are giving them the chance to explain why it has committed such violation. And since the president has always been open, giving a little window in the pursuit of peace, he will wait for the explanation coming from them," he added.

The government and the CPP declared unilateral but reciprocal ceasefires that started last Dec. 23 and will end on Jan. 7 as a confidence-building measure for the resumption of the peace talks.

President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his intention to resume the negotiations with the communists this month, reversing his 2017 decision to scrap the talks due to the successive rebel offensives against government forces.

Panelo said Duterte has ordered authorities to investigate the attacks

Asked whether the president still believes that the communists are sincere in talking peace, Panelo replied: "He's (Duterte) waiting for the report and for the explanation why they made the attack. But what is really clear is the president really wants peace among Filipinos."

Duterte seeks one-on-one meeting with Sison

Panelo said Duterte told him last Tuesday that he wants CPP founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison to come to the Philippines so they could discuss the peace talks.

Sison, who has been on self-exile in the Netherlands since 1987, has rejected proposals to hold the talks in the Philippines, saying it would place the negotiations under the control of the Duterte government.

"He (Duterte) did not state any condition. He just said, 'I want to talk to him one-on-one here,'" Panelo said.

"The stand of the president, he (Sison) either takes it or leaves it," he added.

Sison was once Duterte's college professor and the president claims he was once a member of the Kabataang Makabayan, a now-underground youth movement that Sison founded in 1964.

Asked what would happen if Sison rejects the president's appeal for him to come home, Panelo replied: "We will decide when that assumption comes into being."

Panelo said the one-on-one meeting would be on top of the engagements between the negotiating panels of the government and the communists. He assured Sison that he will not be arrested when he comes to the Philippines.

"The government is open to a talk with them but even prior to the talk, the president stated that he wants Joma Sison to come over, not to fear of any arrest. He's man enough and sincere enough, he can come over and have a one-on-one discussion with the president," Panelo said.

Panelo could not say what Duterte wants to achieve from the one-on-one meeting and whether he would issue a formal invitation to Sison. He said Sison should show his sincerity to the peace process by coming to the Philippines and talking to the President.

"He (Sison) can come home. He should not be afraid of his own shadow," the Palace spokesman said.

Despite the readiness of the government and the communists to resume the talks, the two sides did not refrain from hurling tirades at one another.

In a statement, Sison claimed that the Duterte administration is “going downhill to hell" and "cannot find enough relief from its imperialist masters to overcome the rising revolutionary movement of the Filipino people.”

The rebel leader also claimed that Duterte pretended to be for peace negotiations to conceal his "all-out war" against the people and the revolutionary forces in the countryside.

Asked to react to Sison's statement, Panelo said: "He (Sison) must be refering to himself and his movement."  

'Davao City may be excluded from the ceasefire'

Panelo also said that Duterte is open to excluding Davao City from the ceasefire because the formal negotiations between the government and the communists have yet to resume.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio previously urged Duterte to exclude her city from the ceasefire, citing what she described as "criminal acts and treachery" of the communists.

Including Davao City in the ceasefire or the peace talks would disrupt and threaten the gains of the peace and development process in communities formerly controlled by the rebels, the mayor, the president's daughter, said.  

Panelo said the localized peace talks in Davao City may proceed because they have been instrumental in convincing many rebels to surrender.

"The fear of the mayor is that the other side may take advantage of it (ceasefire) to reorganize, which is a valid observation," Panelo said.

"I understand the localized peace talks has been very effective. It has resulted to the surrender of many NPA (members). That's why they (communists) are against localized peace talks. Mayor Sara does not want the localized peace talks to stop," he added.

While Duterte is open to excluding Davao City in the ceasefire, he has not made a decision on whether to do that.

Panelo also chided the National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao for saying that Sara is bent to "rule with impunity" and for accusing the military of violating ceasefire declarations. 

"They should look at themselves in the mirror...Mayor Sara, being a lawyer, always wanted the rule of law to prevail," he said. 

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