President Rodrigo Duterte's ultimatum to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) on the ambush against government troops in Davao del Norte clearly shows his strong desire to end violence with the rebel group, the military yesterday said.
The Chief Executive is giving the communist rebels until 5 p.m. on Saturday to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire initiated by the government.
"Asking you (CPP-NPA), are you ready to declare ceasefire or not? I will wait until 5 p.m. tomorrow. If I don't get the word from you, will lift the order of ceasefire," Duterte, speaking to the troops at the 60th Infantry Batllion in Davao del Norte, said.
A MalacaAang official, for his part, said the President is still giving a window of opportunity for the National Democratic Front (NDF) to explain the ambush of the government militiamen.
"I don't have a timeline for that but he is giving a window. Based from his statement he is giving a window of opportunity," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told a press briefing.
He, however, clarified that "there is a very brief window of opportunity."
"The President is very rational person and he will do what needs to be done," Abella said.
The ambush happened a day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) suspended its military operations against the rebels in response to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the President in his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) last Monday.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) welcomed the ceasefire but asked for the release of the political prisoners.
Abella clarified that the CPP's requests are not preconditions but "part of the negotiations."
"They're supposed to be reciprocating as soon as possible," he stressed.
Abella said government peace panel chair Secretary Silvestro Bello III has expressed sadness over the ambush of the government troops.
Bello, according to Abella, will await the results of the NDF's verification on the matter.
"As soon as the trust is restored, the things will proceed as agreed upon," the Palace official said.
According to Abella, he expects the scheduled peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF on Aug. 20 to "work out as planned."
AFP-Public Affairs Office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo, meanwhile, welcomed the President's pronouncement before troops of the Southern Luzon Command on Thursday.
"That was a welcome move from the Commander in Chief from whose orders the AFP march onward to the road to combat operations or the path to peace," he said.
"By his stern demand for an explanation, President Rodrigo Duterte did not only send strong signals that he is sincere to end the years of strife by being the first to extend the hand for peace," he added.
According to Arevalo, the President's pronouncements only showed his sincerity in achieving lasting peace in the country.
"He also underscored that those who truly desires peace must also manifest in unmistakable acts their adherence to that quest," said Arevalo.
Military sources branded the ambush as a clear proof of the loose "command and control" within the communist ranks, if they have any.
"Clearly, the so-called (communist) leaders have no control over their fighters on the ground. That's why we need to be very vigilant especially because they have not reciprocated the ceasefire," a senior Army official told The Tribune.
"What's taking the CPP-NPA from declaring ceasefire? My guess is that they (communist leaders) will only be exposing themselves because they have no control to their fighters," another officer said.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano also urged Duterte to withdraw the unilateral ceasefire against the rebels if they continue to attack government forces.
In an unsolicited advice to the President, the former military officer said the Chief Executive should encourage the CPP-NPA-NDF to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire.
Alejano said the President should advise the CPP-NPA to refrain from harming soldiers and civilians to show their sincerity to the peace talks.
"Otherwise, if the attacks continue it would mean two things: one, they are not sincere to the talks or two, they're not one (united) and thus have no or limited control of their troops on the ground," Alejano said.
"Either way, the President would have a clear indication to scuttle the talks," he added.
Alejano said a unilateral ceasefire "is a risky and bold move by the government."
"If anything, the declaration is a manifestation of the sincerity and desire of the government to have a peaceful end on the decades-long communist insurgency," Alejano stressed.
The former soldier said there must be a limit to everything.
"Once they ignore the request and continue to attack our soldiers then the President must promptly withdraw the ceasefire," Alejano said.
A similar call was aired by some members of the upper chamber, with Sen. Panfilo Lacson urging the government to reconsider the idea of putting a deadline in the unilateral ceasefire.
"Just what I thought and had feared that a unilateral ceasefire could put at risk the lives of our soldiers and policemen if not reciprocated soon enough by the CCP-NPA-NDF," he said in a text message to reporters.
"In hindsight, a unilateral ceasefire should be time bound in relation to reciprocity," Lacson added.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a former military officer, described the incident as a "treacherous act that must be condemned."
"There is no possible justification for it," he stressed.
In a television interview, Trillanes said the leadership of the CPP and its political wing should produce and surrender their members, those NPA unit involved in the attack against soldiers in Davao del Norte.
It would be unacceptable, to say the least, if communist leaders or those in command of the NPA unit involved to claim that they're unaware of the ceasefire declaration considering that this was announced during the Sona and carried by practically all media outfits.
Trillanes said the ambush incident could already be an indication of cracks within the leadership and the ranks of the CPP and NPA as he has received information on his matter.
Unless a deadline is set, government troops cannot take proactive action against the rebels and as such, will just wait to be attached before they can react in self-defense, Lacson said.
"While it was well-intentioned, it could put the lives of our soldiers in danger it the CCP-NPA-NDF will not respond positively which seems to be the case at least for the moment. Needless to say, without proper and clear cut guidelines, this move by the President could be costly in terms of our Armed Forces security and safety," he added.