By Reynard Magtoto
03February2017 (BicolToday.com) – After series of armed clashes in the past weeks and disagreement over the release of hundreds of political prisoners, President Rodrigo Duterte has announced the end of the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA).
The government lifted its unilaterally issued Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Offensive Police Operations (SOPO) after the NPA announced last Wednesday that it will withdraw its own ceasefire.
“I really would like to express my sadness. We cannot have a peaceful generation. There will be always be fights,” said Duterte based on reports.
According to Duterte he appears to have no other choice but to continue engaging the communist rebels in armed battles. “I guess peace with the communists cannot be realized during our generation.”
“Ang ibig sabihin, gusto niyo another 50 years (of fighting)? Wala nang katapusan? Eh kung walang katapusan eh di sige,” Duterte said. “But let it not be said that I did not try.”
“Pero kung ganoon lang naman na ang mga sundalo ko pinagpapatay, resume tayo, anytime,” he said.
“Ipagpatuloy natin ang gyera…. kaya sabi ko resume kayo, take your position and be alert. To the nation, I really tried, but the demands are too huge that it is impossible to meet,” Duterte added.
According to National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in a press statement, it is the prerogative of the GRP to lift its SOMO and SOPO effective “Friday night, February 3” and “to ask the soldiers: go back to camp, clean your rifles, and be ready to fight,” in response to the announcement by the CPP and NPA to terminate their unilateral interim ceasefire effective 11:59 pm on 10 February 2017.
“In the time that the SOMO and SOPO were supposedly effective, these were honored in the breach by the AFP, PNP and paramilitary forces as they encroached on communities and occupied schools, day-care centers and other public places such as plazas, basketball courts and bus stops, and even private residences, conducted harassment and random interrogation of residents suspected of having relatives in the NPA or suspected of supporting the revolutionary movement, imposed food blockades, and generally sowed fear and terror among the people,” NDFP Panel chair Fidel Agcaoili said.
According to to Agcaoili, the extrajudicial killings of leaders and members of peasant groups and indigenous peoples have also gone on unabated with four being killed in January alone and another one just today, February 3.
On the other hand, the NPA has maintained strictly its own unilateral ceasefire, taking extraordinary measures to avoid encounters with AFP troops while remaining on active defense.
Over the past months, Agcaoili said that NPA units have maneuvered to evade AFP offensive operations, but armed skirmishes were bound to erupt in the face of the relentless AFP offensives and the NPA’s efforts to actively defend itself and the people’s interests, especially after the 21 January 2017 Makilala, North Cotabato, incident when an NPA encampment was attacked by combined elements of the AFP and PNP special action force.
Release of political prisoners
According to Duterte, the release of some of the communist leaders were enough at this point.
“I went out of my way to release as much as mga leader nila nasa Oslo, para lang makipag-usap. Now there is this demand na i-release ko yung 400 (political prisoners) e ‘di parang nag-grant na ako ng amnesty (proclamation) niyan,” said Duterte.
Duterte added that he does not own the Republic of the Philippines and does not decide alone. “I consult people, particularly the military,” he said.
To NDFP, it maintains that the release and amnesty of political prisoners is a matter of justice and obligation under the CARHRIHL.
According to Agcaoili, the political prisoners have been slapped with multiple trumped-up charges of common crimes, in violation of Philippine jurisprudence on the Hernandez political offense doctrine to which President Rodrigo Duterte had been known to adhere during his time as a public prosecutor in Davao City.
“Some of these political prisoners have languished in jail for more than ten years without conviction, in violation of the right to speedy trial as provided for in the GRP constitution,” said Agcaoili stating that fourteen of them have died in prison, 13 under the time of Benigno Aquino III and one under Duterte,” said Agcaoili.
He added that some well-meaning military and police officers have acknowledged in informal conversations that they know many of these political prisoners are innocent civilians who were just in the vicinity of armed encounters or ordinary activists who were used as scapegoats to compensate for failed military and police missions.
The NDFP has already proposed as early as October 2016 that the release and amnesty of all political prisoners can come after the signing of the CASER without prejudice to the early release of those who are sick, elderly, long-term detainees, women and innocent civilians on humanitarian grounds.
It behooves the GRP to require its prosecutors not to allow the AFP and PNP to dictate the charges to be filed with their planted evidence and false witnesses against alleged or suspected political offenders according to Agcaoili.
NDFP remains hopeful that the peace talks will proceed on track and that the comprehensive agreements on socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms currently being negotiated will be deemed ready for approval by both Panels by end-2017, and soon after by the principals. [BicolToday.com]