Defense chief cold on ceasefire with Reds as soldiers focus on COVID-19 duty

March 18 ------ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana appeared to be distant on Tuesday when asked about the proposed ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as soldiers were focused on fighting a non-traditional threat — the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Lorenzana told reporters it is now “up to the NPA” to decide if they will accept the proposal of President Duterte not to engage with the military amid the current situation.

“They just ambushed an Army team yesterday [Monday] in Bicol,” Lorenzana responded when asked about his opinion on the proposed ceasefire with the communist groups. Duterte, in a public address on Monday night, asked the communist rebels to stop ambushing soldiers and practice “social distancing” from the military. “Ang problema, hindi sa lahat nag… hindi lahat nagmamahal ng gobyerno natin ito. Kayo bang mga NPA nagmamahal kayo sa gobyerno? Kapag hindi… tumulong kayo. Distancing at huwag na niyo muna galawin ang mga sundalo. Ano muna tayo, ceasefire lang,” Duterte said.

“In this time of crisis, kindly cooperate and help. Mas mabuti pa tumulong muna kayo. I will repay you with a good heart in the coming days,” he added. But with the attack on the Army, Lorenzana refused to acknowledge there is a need for a ceaefire with the communist groups. “I have nothing to add. The President said it and it’s up to the NPA,” Lorenzana said. “The Army now will focus on helping enforce the enhanced quarantine.”

Meanwhile, CPP founder Jose Ma. “Joma” Sison said Duterte must make a formal offer to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiating panel through the government (GRP) panel if he is “really serious” about the ceasefire. “As Duterte admits, it is true that the redeployment of his military and police to urban areas would leave a vacuum and will allow the New People’s Army to increase its tactical offensives in the countryside,” Sison said.

“But if he is really serious with his offer to have a ceasefire with the NDFP, he must make a formal offer through the GRP negotiating panel to the NDFP negotiating panel. The offer will be seriously studied by the NDFP and the CPP,” he added. About 3,000 soldiers from the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region were deployed over the weekend to help 40,000 police man the checkpoints that were placed at the borders of Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces after Duterte declared an enhanced community quarantine over the capital region to contain the virus. In recent developments, more soldiers are expected to be deployed as the virus continues to spread.