Continuing AFP operations, presence in communities undermine GRP ceasefire

To support the determination of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to engage the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in peace negotiations, units of the New People’s Army (NPA) have strictly complied with the 7-day (August 21-27) ceasefire declaration issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army.

Towards this aim, NPA units are also set to release at least seven prisoners-of-war in Surigao and Compostela Valley. In Northern Mindanao, the NPA command took the initiative of extending the effectivity of the ceasefire to facilitate the safe and orderly release of the said prisoners, all of whom are GRP police officers who were accosted to undergo preliminary investigation.

In light of positive developments in peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway, the leadership of the CPP and command of the NPA are encouraged to issue an extension of the unilateral declaration of ceasefire. The declaration will be issued after the results of the Oslo talks are made public.

We are also encouraged by the statements of GRP President Duterte encouraging soldiers and police to be friendly with the revolutionary forces as well as by recognition of the revolutionary government led by the CPP that exist in large parts of the country.

The CPP, however, must strongly criticize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for maintaining their presence and continuing to make aggressive moves in and around the areas of operations of the NPA which form part of the territories of the people’s democratic government.

There have been persistent reports of continuing presence of armed operating troops of the AFP in barangay centers, occupying barangay halls, community schools and day care centers, senior citizen centers and other civilian structures. They continue to set up detachments or physical bases in the center of civilian population.

Local residents have questioned why armed operating troops of the AFP are entering their barangays, knowing that the Duterte government has declared a ceasefire. According to our reports, when questioned, field commanders invariably justify their presence with claims of ‘peace and development’, ‘anti-drug’, ‘anti-logging’ and ‘visitations’. To the people, these are nothing but thinly-veiled pretexts to impose their armed presence and to carry out psywar, surveillance and search and combat operations against the NPA.

The presence and operations of the AFP in rural communities undermine the credibility of the Duterte government among the people as it projects an image of disunity within the GRP or refusal of the AFP to abide by the order of its commander-in-chief.

AFP units have maintained their presence in civilian communities in Kalinga, Isabela, Abra, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Negros Occidental, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and Compostela Valley.

People are made to suffer the oppressive presence of armed operating troops of the AFP which instill fear on civilians. The people’s right to free movement is restricted for fear of being accosted by the soldiers or because of the outright imposition of curfew.

Economic activity is affected as peasants choose not to tend theirfields for fear of being questioned by soldiers. There have been restrictions on commerce, particularly, on the amount of goods that can be purchased by community stores. Community leaders, especially those active in struggles for land and against mining are being summoned or “invited” by the AFP.

Peasants, Lumad and other minority peoples seek the assistance of peace advocates, human rights groups, media and alternative media groups, students, lawyers, church people and others to help draw attention to their plight and amplify their call for the withdrawal of armed troops from their communities.

The AFP must also stop making the stupid counter-demand for the NPA to also withdraw from their communities. These are nothing but empty noise to drown the clamor for their removal. In the first place NPA units do not set up detachments inside the communities or use barangay halls as their barracks.

In light of GRP President’s call, we anticipate him to be sympathetic to the plight of the peasants and Lumad and see the urgency of ordering the withdrawal of AFP troops from civilian communities.

The continuing presence of armed troops of the AFP in rural communities also undermine and endanger the ceasefire declarations separately issued by GRP President Duterte and the CPP.

Operating troops of the AFP have been using the rural communities as base to launch aggressive operations into the interior areas where they believe NPA units are based.

Over the past week, NPA units across the country have reported that they were forced to carry out lateral and counter-encirclement maneuvers to avoid skirmishes with active and aggressive units of the AFP.

If the AFP will insist on maintaining its presence in communities and launching aggressive operations into the interior areas, armed skirmishes are bound to erupt despite the NPA’s effort to maintain the ceasefire.

For the CPP and Duterte ceasefires to persist, the negotiating panels of the GRP and the NDFP can establish more explicit ground rules and systems of monitoring and reporting.