Philippine leader declares unilateral ceasefire for Christmas

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had ordered the army and police to suspend offensive operations from 24 December to 2 January “to lessen the apprehension of the public this Christmas season”.

This file photo taken on 18 July 2017 shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) holding a .45 caliber handgun, one of 3,000 units handed over during a ceremonial turn-over to the military, at Malacanang Palace as military chief Eduardo Ano (R) looks on. Picture: AFP

MANILA - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a 10-day unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels to allow Filipinos to celebrate a “stress-free” Christmas season, two weeks after peace talks with the insurgents were formally scrapped.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had ordered the army and police to suspend offensive operations from 24 December to 2 January “to lessen the apprehension of the public this Christmas season”.

He said he expected the Maoists and their political leaders to “do a similar gesture of goodwill.”

There was no immediate comment from the communist rebel movement, whose top leaders and negotiators have been living in exile in The Netherlands since the late 1980s.

Duterte restarted a stalled peace process and freed several communist leaders as a gesture of good faith when he came to office last year but he recently abandoned talks due to escalating rebel attacks.

He has vented his fury on a near-daily basis at what he considers duplicity by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). He has collectively declared them a “terrorist organisation” and has ended the three-decades peace process.

The rebel forces, estimated to number around 3,000, have been waging a protracted guerrilla warfare in the countryside for nearly 50 years in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people and stifled growth in resource-rich areas of the Philippines.

The guerrillas have been targeting mines, plantations, construction and telecommunication companies, demanding “revolutionary taxation” to finance arms purchases and recruitment activities.

Duterte on Tuesday night said he only wanted Filipinos to celebrate a “stress-free” Christmas.

“I do not want to add more strain to what people are now suffering,” he told reporters.