By Dennis Jay Santos
Communist rebels in the Philippines declared a unilateral Christmastime ceasefire on Friday, apparently unaware that troops had arrested a senior consultant of the insurgent group and his wife earlier in the day.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the order for the New People’s Army (NPA), its armed wing, to silence guns would be carried out in two stages over five days around Christmas and New Year’s Day. The first ceasefire would run from Dec. 24 through Dec. 26, and the second one from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, the CPP said in a statement.
The CPP leadership ordered its fighters to “cease and desist from carrying out offensive military campaigns and operations against uniformed armed personnel” of the government during the days covered by the ceasefire but also admonished them “to stay on alert for active defense mode.”
The ceasefire declaration by the party’s Central Committee was dated early this week but only released Friday.
The declaration came after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he would not recommend that government declare a traditional Christmas ceasefire, as he accused the rebels of exploiting a lull in fighting to bolster its arsenal.
The military also said it would object to any plans of declaring a government ceasefire over the year-end holidays.
According to Lorenzana, President Rodrigo Duterte would have the final say on a ceasefire, but the chief executive would likely follow his defense team’s recommendations.
In its ceasefire declaration, the CPP leaders called on “all Red fighters and commanders” to “maintain a high degree of militancy and vigilance against hostile actions or movements by enemy armed forces.”
However, at no point should the NPA “leave the people defenseless and place their units in danger,” the CPP said, adding that the truce could be cancelled at any time if communist rebels came under attack by government troops.
The announcement was made public the same day police said they had arrested Rey Claro Casambre and his wife at their home in Bacoor city, a suburb south of Manila.
Casambre, 67, is a senior consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political wing of the CPP. His wife, Patricia Cora, is 72. Both were arrested in connection with homicide charges filed against them in the southern city of Davao.
Last month, Vicente Ladlad, 68, a ranking party member, and two of his aides were arrested north of Manila.
The series of arrests came after President Rodrigo Duterte called off peace talks aimed at ending the communist insurgency, which began in 1969 and is considered Asia’s longest running rebellion.
“A handgun, grenade, bullets and bomb components were recovered from the suspect. The couple are now detained,” regional police commander Chief Supt. Edward Carranza said of the couple.
Since Duterte came to power two years ago, over 50 “prominent communist personalities” have been arrested, disrupting the group’s chain of command from the CPP leadership to its guerrillas on the ground, the military has said.
Shortly after assuming office in 2016, Duterte, a self-described leftist, opened peace talks with the CPP and released dozens of detained insurgent leaders as a goodwill measure.
The relationship soured months later when the rebels were accused of carrying on with attacks in remote areas of the country despite the peace talks. Duterte subsequently ended the negotiations.
Nonoy Espina and Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Bacolad and Cotabato city, Philippines.