CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

Print Version    Email to Friend
Ceasefire flops within a week

MANILA (UCAN): After ordering an immediate ceasefire in Mindanao during his State of the Nation Address on July 25, the newly-elected president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, reversed the order on July 30 after one militiaman was killed and four others wounded when ambushed on July 27 in the province of Davao del Norte.

Calling off the ceasefire has raised concerns over the future of upcoming peace talks between Manila and the Communist Party of The Philippines scheduled to be resurrected from their several years’ hiatus in Oslo, as they are being brokered by the government of Norway.

“I am hereby ordering the immediate lifting of the unilateral ceasefire that I ordered on July 25 against the Communist rebels,” the president said in a statement.

He ordered all security forces “to be on high alert and... to neutralise all threats to national security.”

Duterte’s action reinforced that he is not one to give second chances, as he explained that he ended the ceasefire because the rebels had failed to reciprocate the government declaration.

However, while a week may be a long time in politics in Manila, for communication among insurgent leaders scattered in isolated hideaways among the vast countryside of Mindanao, it is an extremely short period.

Leaders of insurgent groups complained that the time allotted to them was too short and in fact, they were about to declare their own ceasefire.

They bitterly criticised the unpredictable president for showing a “lack of prudence in something as sensitive and delicate as peace negotiations.”

In a statement issued on July 31, the Communist Party called the ultimatum that everyone should act according to his whim, quite capricious.

“It is advisable for him to exercise a little more prudence and display more measured temperament as a way of appreciating the situation from a broader historical perspective,” the statement says.

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, an alliance of Catholic and Protestant Church leaders in The Philippines, is now urging the government and the insurgents in Mindanao to remain focussed and steadfast in the pursuit of peace.

“Let our hearts be open to the understanding that we need each other in the pursuit of peace that is the fruit of trust and justice,” a statement from the group reads.

The Church leaders urged both sides not to allow mistrust to deter or defeat the peace initiative.

In its statement signed by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, from Cagayan de Oro, the ecumenical group commended Duterte for his bold step in declaring the unilateral ceasefire during his State of the Nation Address.

The group also urged the insurgents “to reciprocate the gesture… by also declaring a ceasefire to show a common commitment to establish the conditions for the resumption of formal peace talks.”

The Church leaders say they have journeyed with both parties and recognise the challenges of pursuing a peace that seeks to address the root causes of the 46-year-old conflict.

“We urge both parties to uphold their determination to continue the pursuit of peace,” the statement reads.

Peace advocates have called on the government and the rebels to declare a simultaneous ceasefire later this month when formal peace talks open in Norway.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet in Oslo on August 20 to restart talks aimed at ending almost five decades of conflict.

“The Filipino people want peace.... We will support any effort by President Duterte and the [rebels] aimed at achieving a just and lasting peace,” Neri Colmenares, a former member of the congress, said.

Duterte’s peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said the government may work out a negotiated truce with the rebels. “It was in our agenda when the formal peace talks resume in Oslo,” he said, adding that they will go on as scheduled.

José Maria Sison, founding chairperson of the Communist Party, said he is “ready for any effort to pave the way and move the peace negotiations forward.”

More from this section