President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday declared a unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels as a show of sincerity in his earlier peace overtures made to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
“I am announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front) effective immediately,” Duterte said in his first state-of-the-nation address delivered during a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives and televised nationwide.
The first president from southern Mindanao island said he expects the NDF to also respond to his call accordingly.
“I expect and call on our fellow Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly,” he said.
Duterte lamented there is no end to the skirmishes between government forces and communist rebels and the bloody conflict has become “bloodier”.
“We have to stop this fighting Filipinos against Filipinos,” Duterte stressed.
Since March 1969, the NPA- the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines - has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which - according to the military - has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years. It has been involved in killings involving personalities participating in counter insurgency activities.
“All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but peace of the living... we express our readiness and willingness to go to the negotiating table and yet we load our guns, fix our sight and pull the trigger,” the president said addressing the communist rebels as well as the Moro people.
Duterte vowed to work for a “permanent and lasting peace” before he ends his term in 2022.
“That is my goal, that is my dream,” he said.
The Chief Executive also said will address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, indigenous peoples, and other groups toward achieving security and development.
He said he found it sad and ironic “that while we extol the bravery and heroism of our soldiers — you rebels do the same for your fighters — what I see are the widows and orphans and I feel their pain and grief.”
No amount of cash assistance and medals can compensate the loss of human life,” said the president, adding: “Sorrow cuts across every stratum of hman society. It cuts deeply and the pain lasts forever. That’s why I reach out to you, to all of you today,” and added, “let’s end a century of distrust.”
When he launched into his speech, Duterte asked for “a little bit of informality at the outset” to remark that the “three guys” behind him, including Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, are, like himself, “from Mindanao”, President Duterte lost no time launching into his pet topic: The drug problem and the fight against criminality.
“The fight against criminality and illegal drugs will be relentless and sustained. I reiterate that commitment today,” he stated assertively, crisply.
He exhorted government instrumentalities “not to lower their guard. There will be no letup. Double your efforts. Triple your efforts. We will not stop until the last drug lords or financiers are put behind bars – or below the ground if they so wish.”
The President recited the riot act: Do your jobs, and you will have the unwavering support of the Office of the President. Abuse your authority, and there will be hell to pay.”
Addressing persistent public outcry against perceived abuse of authority by law enforcers, Duterte directed the National Police Commission “to hasten administrative cases against police officers involved in criminal activities.”
“In this quest,” he restated yet again for publicly, “I will put at stake my honor, my life, and the presidency itself.”
He admonished the Department of the Interior and Local Government to strictly monitor local government units, “those found not performing should be sanctioned.”
In the fight against drugs, he disclosed a plan to create an inter-agency commission on drugs to prioritize the government’s drug rehabilitation infrastructure, including the strengthening of the residential treatment system.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, he said, will be tapped to facilitate the use of space in military camps for setting up more drug rehab facilities.
“Finger-pointing is not the way; I will not waste precious time dwelling on the sins of the past. It is the present that we are concerned with, the future we should be prepared for ... Our duty is to uplift the people’s welfare. Promote human rights, especially the poor, the marginalized.”
Duterte stressed “the human approach to human development and governance.”
In one of many deviations from his prepared speech, Duterte reverted to his tough talk against drugs and criminality, saying: “If you don’t want to die or be hurt, do not depend on priests or human rights, who cannot stop death.”
He also made light of photos of a young woman cradling her dead partner, an alleged drug suspect slain in Pasay City, calling it “drama” and also twitted media for questioning “where’s the big fish, where are the millionaries,” acknowledging that drug lords of that level direct the trade in the country from the outside.
“If you want, I will give you the names and show you the intelligence ... but give me the guarantee that you can do something. If not, shut up,” he said.