THE DAY after his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25, offering in part an “immediate ceasefire” with the communist rebellion, President Rodrigo R. Duterte was at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province, explaining to his audience of soldiers his ceasefire announcement and assuring them, “I will protect you.”

“To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately. And call on our Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.” he said in his SONA, referring as well to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the New People’s Army.

Mr. Duterte’s remarks were also addressed to the long-standing Muslim insurgency.

SUSPENSION OF OPERATIONS

Following these remarks, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto C. Padilla said in a text message also on Monday that Mr. Duterte “has initiated a very bold move and we fully support him in his effort to bring sustainable [and] lasting peace to our whole country.”

“The government has shown its sincerity and we expect no less from the other party,” he also qualified, adding, “The AFP will abide by the Commander-in-Chief’s instruction but will remain alert, vigilant and ready to defend itself [and] pursue attackers if confronted by armed elements of the NPA [New People’s Army].”

The next day, AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya ordered a suspension of military operations (SOMO) against the New People’s Army (NPA), but also qualified that even with the order, “our troops will continue to support or provide forces for the Philippine National Police in law enforcement operations against lawless elements and criminal groups.”

As Mr. Duterte delivered his SONA that Monday, news reports said the NPA has claimed responsibility for the Saturday abduction of three police officers and a civilian employee in the town of Malimono, Surigao del Norte.

In response to the SONA, the CPP issued a statement on Tuesday saying in part that it has ordered the NPA “to maintain an active defense mode. A more detailed order is set to be issued by the National Operations Command of the NPA.”

The statement also said the CPP welcomes Mr. Duterte’s “unilateral declaration of ceasefire” and will “await the release of the operational details, schedules and specific orders” of this declaration, after which the CPP “will soon issue its own unilateral ceasefire declaration as a reciprocal act to boost the peace talks.”

But the rebels also called for the release of their “peace consultants and the rest of the 550 political prisoners,” and for the AFP’s withdrawal of its troops — which Mr. Visaya said is not covered by his SOMO directive.

‘BE READY FOR INSTANT FAILURE’

Fort Magsaysay, where Mr. Duterte reached out to his soldiers following his ceasefire offer to the rebels, is the headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division and also of the Special Operations Command of the Philippine Army, deemed to be at the forefront in the government’s counter-insurgency operations.

The ceasefire offer, Mr. Duterte told his audience, “is not my decision alone.”

“It is the decision of the Cabinet…. General [Hermogenes C.] Esperon [Jr.] and Secretary Delfin (N.) Lorenzana are members of the Cabinet too,” he said, citing the two retired generals. Mr. Esperon himself is a former Armed Forces chief.

“I am a President that seeks peace with everyone. It is my job as President not to pick fights. My job as President is to make sure that there is no chaos in the Philippines and that you, the military, [are] ever ready to guard the integrity of the Republic to protect the people,” he said.

He also talked about the “MN” — the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) — and the “MI” — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has a standing peace agreement with the Philippine government (under the previous administration) that Mr. Duterte acknowledged in his address.

But he also said, in connection with the Abu Sayyaf terror threat in the South: “I want to hear from the MI(LF) and MN(LF) that they do not have any connections with the Abu Sayyaf… because if they still have a connection with the Abu Sayyaf, I don’t think there will be significant result.”

Mr. Duterte then disclosed that he had consulted his budget secretary, Benjamin E. Diokno, about raising the soldiers’ pay, which drew applause from his audience.

“Mapahiya ako sa sundalo. I said, you [Mr. Diokno] have to look for a way starting next month,” he said.

“Incremental increase [ang] sweldo niyo. I promise you double, you will get it,” he added.

He also guaranteed the soldiers that he will protect them as long as they are performing their duties.

“It is your time now, especially [since] I said to the Filipinos that I want you to help our country. So do it now…. If you want to help, that goes for everybody, I said, you have no problem. I will protect you,” he said.

Mr. Duterte also stressed that “we will be ready for an instant failure,” that is, if war ensues.

“We are in a delicate position now and we’re now talking so… let us show restraint, we will not pick fights — at least not coming from us — but we should be prepared for any eventuality,” he said.

Source: Business World Online