Just peace needs patience and resolve

The new global peace community JustPeacePH wants to maximise the prospects of peace in the Philippines despite the uneasy circumstances that have developed over the past week.

“We need patience and resolve to see through all the possibilities for the peace process”, said Peter Murphy, Chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP).

President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25. Four days later, on July 29, he issued a 5:00 p.m. ultimatum for the other side to reciprocate.

Meanwhile, the national leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) were preparing their own draft interim ceasefire declaration and was reportedly preparing to announce it by 8:00 p.m. on the same day. However, Pres. Duterte withdrew the government’s unilateral ceasefire at 7:30 p.m., before the CPP-NPA-NDF could even reciprocate.

A flurry of accusations and counter-accusations were exchanged between the two parties over the weekend. “We are greatly relieved that by the end of the day on Monday, August 1, both parties confirmed that the formal talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo will definitely resume on August 20, 2016 as scheduled”, Murphy continued.

In response to President Duterte’s pronouncement of July 25, AFP Chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya issued “suspension of offensive military operations” (SOMO) but ordered AFP combat troops to continue “to perform its mandate of protecting the communities and its people from terrorist groups; secure and protect from attacks or sabotage vital government facilities, military camps, infrastructures, and projects”.

On July 26, Ka Oris, spokesperson of the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-NOC) released a statement entitled “NPA to be on active defense as it awaits operational details of Duterte ceasefire declaration prior to reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declaration”.

In the same statement, he warned, “the NPA must remain ever alert to AFP offensive military operations, including reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence operations, patrols and search-and-destroy operations, as well as psywar operations and suppression campaigns against civilians and communities in the guise of “peace and development” Oplan Bayanihan operations”.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on July 27 declared suspension of offensive police operations (SOPO) against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Rigoberto F. Sanchez, New People’s Army Spokesperson, Regional Operations Command of Southern Mindanao Region, in a press statement issued July 30, however said “that there is no conspicuous and veritable unilateral ceasefire exercised by AFP, PNP and paramilitary troops in Southern Mindanao.”

On July 27, a unit of the NPA launched an ambush against operating troops and auxilliary forces of the 72nd Infantry Battalion in Kapalong, Davao del Norte. In its report, the NPA unit said they carried out the ambush as part of its active defense in the face of an imminent armed encounter with the operating armed troops and auxilliary forces of the 72nd IB of the AFP, and the notorious para-military group called Alamara as they “took off for combat operation from their detachment in Brgy. Patil”.

People’s rights alliance Karapatan has likewise received reports of continuing military combat operations in Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, Davao City, Isabela, Cagayan, Bulacan, Quezon, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Bohol, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Samar, Surigao, and other provinces, even after Duterte’s declaration of the unilateral ceasefire.

Karapatan also reported that on July 30, a dozen members of the paramilitary group NIPAR led by Alde “Butsoy” Salusad fired at some eighty (80) Tigwahanon gathered for a wedding in Sitio Tibugawan, Brgy. Kawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon. Makinit Gayoran, pregnant and carrying her months-old baby, was killed instantly while seven other individuals, including five minors, were wounded.

According to Karapatan, there were 97 victims of political killings perpetrated by paramilitary groups under the previous Aquino regime (data as of March 2016).  Thousands of Lumad were forced to evacuate from their homes because of the AFP’s and para-military operations in their communities.  These troops were not pulled out under the government ceasefire.

Understandably, these Lumad evacuees were very hesitant to go back home even with the President’s direct assurances to the community representatives of a safe return.

On July 31, the CPP said that it is “willing to issue a unilateral ceasefire declaration separately but simultaneously with the Duterte government” at the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on August 20-27 in Oslo, Norway.

JustPeacePH reiterates its call to the international community to support the Filipino people’s aspirations for just and lasting peace. The peace process between the GRP and the NDFP is very important and needs our support!

International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. The ICHRP is a global network of organizations based outside of the Philippines, committed to campaigning for human rights and Filipino people's rights.