Philippines declares ceasefire with communist rebels amid COVID-19 outbreak
Manila, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday declared a unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels of the New People’s Army to allow the military focus on the ongoing outbreak of the new coronavirus.
The truce would come into effect at midnight on Thursday and last until Apr. 15. It comes amid a complete lockdown on the island of Luzon – the biggest and most populated in the country – since Monday as part of measures to contain the epidemic.
Duterte has ordered the defense establishment, the armed forces and the police to “cease and desist from carrying out offensive military and police operations during the ceasefire period”, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“Through this ceasefire, the Philippine government aspires that the swift provision of public health assistance goes unimpeded,” he added.
The Philippines has reported at least 202 confirmed cases and 17 deaths due to the COVID-19, although there are concerns that the country might have hundreds of undetected patients due to lack of resources.
Duterte came to power in 2016 with the promise of reviving the peace process with the left-wing rebels but the dialog process broke down on three occasions, the latest a year ago when the president shut down negotiations and ordered the military to “annihilate the enemy”.
However, a negotiation window was reopened in December and since then a few exploratory encounters have taken place in the Netherlands, where the founder of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing NEP, Jose Maria Sison, has been living in self-exile for three decades.
On Friday, the highest military commander of the NEP, Julius Giron, was killed in a joint operation by the military and the National Police, in what is being considered a big blow to the group and a step towards ending the conflict by some analysts.
The NEP, formed in 1969 to fight against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, has around 3,900 regular fighters – although the number of its troops reached as high as 26,000 during the 1980s. It has been involved in a deadly conflict for half a century that has resulted in around 43,000 deaths. EFE-EPA