MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist guerrillas effectively immediately Monday and asked the rebels to do the same to end decades of deadly violence and foster the resumption of peace talks.
In his first state of the nation address before Congress, Duterte said he wanted a “permanent and lasting peace” before the end of his six-year term, which commenced on June 30.
Addressing the New People’s Army guerrillas, Duterte said: “Let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere and it is getting bloodier by the day.”
The Philippine military welcomed Duterte’s announcement but said it “will remain alert, vigilant and ready to defend itself and pursue attackers if confronted by armed elements of the New People’s Army.”
“The commander-in-chief has initiated a very bold move and we fully support him in his effort to bring sustainable and lasting peace,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
The decades-long communist insurgency, one of Asia’s longest, has left nearly 150,000 combatants and civilians dead and stalled economic development, especially in rural areas where the Maoist insurgents have had a long presence.
Government negotiators have met with rebel counterparts and agreed to restart peace talks in the next few months. A rebel leader in self-exile in Europe, Jose Maria Sison, plans to fly home soon to meet Duterte, his former student in a Manila university.
Duterte also said his administration was ready to pursue peace talks with Muslim guerrillas in the country’s south, where he was a longtime mayor of Davao city, where he built a name for his tough crimebusting style before rising to the presidency.
“Let me say this, all of us want peace,” Duterte said. “Not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living.”