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GPH panel welcomes 6-day Christmas ceasefire declaration by communist rebels

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The government peace panel welcomed on Tuesday the announcement by communist rebels for a six-day staggered ceasefire during the Christmas holiday.

Earlier, the government declared an 18-day ceasefire from December 16, 2011 to January 2, 2012.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the ceasefire will start from 12:01 a.m. of December 24 to 11:59 p.m. of December 26, and 12:01 a.m. of December 31 to 11:59 p.m of January 2.

“We are heartened that the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front) have found it in their hearts to declare ceasefires on Christmas and New Year and give its fighters a respite from their life of violence,” Undersecretary Alex Padilla, chairman of the government peace panel negotiating with the CPP/NPA/NDF, said in a statement.

“We would have wanted a commitment to a longer ceasefire to give the conflict-affected communities a chance for an extended celebration in this season of hope, peace and goodwill,” Padilla said.

However, the peace panel did not hide its disappointment to the recent attack by NPA rebels on Army soldiers helping civilians in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur last Dec. 16, the day the government declared a unilateral holiday truce.

“We were upset that they (NPA) taunted the ceasefire declared by our government by launching deadly attacks on our military doing peace work under Oplan Bayanihan," he said.

However, their declaration of abbreviated ceasefires and willingness to assist in the rescue and relief operations in areas affected by tropical storm "Sendong" are most welcome, he added.

“This is a time for all Filipinos to come together and the CPP's offer of help in alleviating the sufferings of the flood victims is well appreciated,” Padilla said, referring to the catastrophe in Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City, Dumaguete City and other areas in the Visayas and Mindanao as a result of storm “Sendong.”

Early this week, the Waging Peace Philippines (WPP), a non-governmental organization peace advocate, called on the CPP-NPA-NDF to reciprocate the 18-day unilateral ceasefire declared by President Benigno S. Aquino III during the Christmas.

“Waging Peace Philippines again appeals to the CPP-NPA-NDF to declare a Christmas ceasefire, beginning with this period of 'Simbang Gabi' or tradition of dawn masses with which Filipino Catholics mark Christmas,” said WPP spokesperson Anica Reyes in an e-mail to the Philippines News Agency on Saturday.

“We had been elated by the 18-day Christmas ceasefire that had been unilaterally declared by the government, hoping that this would give respite and security, especially to communities affected by conflict,” she said.

“We had hoped that a suspension of military offensives by both parties would provide a good atmosphere, as we also called for the resumption of peace negotiations between the GRP and NDF by the first quarter of 2012. We had also urged the government for the humanitarian release of political prisoners, particularly persons relevant to the peace processes,” Ms. Reyes said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Army condemned the landmine attack by NPA rebels that killed a woman and wounded seven soldiers, including a young officer, in Surigao del Sur last Sunday.

The soldiers on board a military truck were cruising the national road towards a local market when a roadside bomb was detonated as their vehicle passed by the vicinity of Sitio Puerto, Maharlika Village, Bislig City at around 12:10 pm.

An elderly woman who hitched a ride with the soldiers was killed due to shrapnel wounds. She was identified as Lilia Lalisan, 63, a resident of Dona Carmen of Tagbina town.

The wounded troopers were identified as 2nd Lt. Michael Pascua and Pfc Gregorio Dacayanan, Pfc Efraim Joy Manalili, Pfc John Rey Del Rosario, Pfc Renan Bertillo, Pfc Alberto Caballo and Pfc Mon Claire Fernandez. They were promptly brought to a local hospital for treatment of their minor injuries.

Ednar Dayanghirang of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Peace Process condemned the NPA's continuous employment of landmines.

"Those landmines have once again put the lives of non-combatants to danger. The rebels are carrying out this attack in time during the calamitous flooding in Mindanao which claimed hundreds of lives," said Dayanghirang.

The use of anti-personnel mines is prohibited under the Ottawa Treaty. The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) likewise prohibits the use of conventional weapons that might have indiscriminate effects. It is clearly provided in Protocol II which regulates the use of mines and booby traps.

Major Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, also deplored the NPA’s use of improvised landmine.

"The death of Lalisan is an example of the disastrous effect of the employment of landmines in armed conflict. I humbly request all human rights advocates such as the Human Rights Watch and the leftist group KARAPATAN to condemn this clear violation of human rights by the CPP-NPA-NDF," said Cabunoc.

By Ben Cal




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