President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels, as state forces were sent to man borders and enforce guidelines of the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), where more than 200 have already been infected nationwide.
Malacanang said the ceasefire will take effect March 19 and last until April 15, 2020.
Duterte ordered the Department of National Defense (DND), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to “cease and desist from carrying out offensive military and police operations during the ceasefire period,” said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
“Through this ceasefire, the Philippine government aspires that the swift provision of public health assistance goes unimpeded with the movement of health workers and medical supplies to communities, well as of people in need of immediate medical attention,” Panelo said.
Duterte declared the entire Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine”, which others described as a “lockdown”, on midnight Monday, strictly suspending all public transport, public and private school and work, except for frontline services, and some exempt private sector enterprises, barring public gatherings, and intensifying troop deployment to enforce travel restrictions.
This was made as government sought to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has infected 202 people as of Wednesday, with 17 deaths and 7 recoveries.
Government peace negotiations with the communist rebels earlier collapsed after continued rebel attacks on state troops despite ongoing talks.
Earlier, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said it will “seriously study” Duterte’s offer for a ceasefire as the country faces the threat of COVID-19.
In a statement, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said Duterte should formally make a ceasefire offer, which the NDFP and the Communist Party of the Philippines will study.
“But if he is really serious with his offer to have a ceasefire with the NDFP he must make a formal offer through the GRP negotiating panel to the NDFP negotiating panel,” Sison said.
“It will be related not only to the common fight against COVID-19 but also to the resumption of the peace negotiations,” Sison added.
Duterte on Monday called for a truce with communist rebels as the country grapples with containing the rapidly spreading COVID-19.
Duterte made the appeal during a public address as he placed the entire island of Luzon under an expanded quarantine.
“Ceasefire muna tayo. Mas mabuti pang tumulong muna kayo. I will repay you with a good heart,” he said.
The President formally terminated peace talks with the rebels in March 2019, saying he would no longer entertain any “persuasions” from the communists.
However, in December, Duterte ordered Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to meet with Sison.
The President did not specify what Bello and Sison would talk about but said that “the quest for longing for peace has always been there” and that it was his “last card.”/Stacy Ang