AUTHORITIES are now on high alert, placing the troops in a defensive mode for possible atrocities that would be perpetrated by the communist rebels following the termination of the five-month unilateral ceasefire by the National People's Army (NPA).
In a statement released Wednesday, February 1, NPA spokesman Jorge Madlos announced the NPA’s unilateral ceasefire ends on February 10.
“With this declaration and notice, the August 28 unilateral ceasefire shall effectively expire on 11:59 p.m. of February 10,” Madlos said.
Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) spokesperson Ezra Balegtey said, in Wednesday's Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police (AFP-PNP) press forum at The Royal Mandaya Hotel, the military is still observing the existing unilateral ceasefire and they are mandated to follow the order in suspending any offensive military operation.
Balegtey said Eastmincom Commander Rey Leonardo Guerrero ordered them to raise their alert status for possible attack that would be undertaken by the NPA, following the series of abduction by militiamen in far-flung areas.
“We have to abide with the unilateral ceasefire of our government while we should not also abandon our mandate to protect the community and the troops and we have to protect ourselves from possible attack,” he said.
On Wednesday, the NPA ordered all its commands and units, including the people's militia and self-defense corps to defend the people and revolutionary forces.
“They must counteract, frustrate and punish AFP-Cafgu (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit)-PNP interior patrol operations, AFP psywar operations under Oplan Kapayapaan, AFP units occupying barangays (villages) and communities and enemy armed offensives posing as anti-drug and anti-crime operations,” the statement read.
Balegtey said the move could possibly imperil the ongoing peace negotiation since the lifting would mean permitting its troops to bear offensive operations which are contrary to the essence in the pursuit of a bilateral truce.
“This will not be a positive development in the peace process sa kapayapaan na ating gusting matamo (for the peace we want to achieve). If you let your group magkaroon ng (start an) attack, of course it will affect,” he said.
Despite the lifting of the ceasefire, he said it will not affect the AFP since, even before, “they have not stopped extorting under the guise of their so-called revolutionary taxation and continue their normal activities such as recruiting, burning buses and equipment, ambushing and kidnapping soldiers.”
Eastmincom data recorded 16 incidents of extortion allegedly committed by NPA members within their area of responsibility since December 30, 2016.
“Our troops will not actively operate against the NPA while our ceasefire is in effect. However, it will continue to maintain peace and order and run after lawless elements whoever they are. We do not recognize any areas under NPA control nor are they allowed to roam around with their firearms intimidating people,” he said.
Police Regional Office (PRO) Regional Director Manuel Gaerlan, for his part, said they would continue to contain lawless activities happening in their areas.
“As law enforcers, any violation of the law na makita namin (that we will see) whether it is possession of fire arms, extortion or whatever, we have to take action,” Gaerlan said.
He added he already issued a warning to all the units and stations under PRO-Davao Region for the possible attack or harassment of armed men in their areas.
He also lamented the order of the NPA in presuming the authorities guilty based on their statement which is opposite to their advocacy of protecting the human rights under the Comprehensive Agreement for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
“The members of AFP, PNP and Cafgu are also human and has right na dapat isulong hindi lang yong mga gusto nilang tulungan na mga advocates ng organization na sumusuporta sa kanila (that should be pushed forward not only to help the advocates of the organization that were supporting them),” Gaerlan added.