Military and police officials yesterday met to push for a “local ceasefire” in Negros that would give local government officials and Negrenses a respite from violence and killings, and enable them to concentrate on economic endeavors.
This was after the 18-day and six-day ceasefires, observed by the government and New People’s Army, respectively, ended on Jan. 2.
Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said they are looking for a third party mediator, who can get in touch and be trusted by the top hierarchy of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros headed by priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez, and his wife and deputy, Cleofe.
Lactao said the ceasefire has to be mutual, and not with only one party observing it.
The proposed ceasefire also got the support of Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. who has called on the NPA several times to abandon the armed struggle, and join him in the fight against poverty and hunger.
“We should not fight among ourselves, and instead focus our efforts on fighting our biggest enemy, which is hunger and poverty, together,” Marañon said.
The ceasefire ended with a former government militiaman summarily executed by suspected rebels on Dec. 20 in Brgy. Quintin Remo, Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental.
Senior Supt. Allan Guisihan, provincial police director of Negros Occidental, said the proposed ceasefire will allow the unhampered delivery of government basic services in the countryside.
Lactao said bishops may act as mediators to establish contact with the NPA leaders.
Stressing that the armed struggle is now already irrelevant, Lactao said “if you want to have political power, you have to go through the process, which is democracy.”
The military estimates that less than 200 NPA armed members are still operating in Negros, and are thinly dispersed into small groups, to avoid detection.
Military records also show that, as of yesterday, the number of rebel returnees who surrendered in 2011 to Army units had risen to 44.
Earlier, Marañon had given financial and livelihood assistance to the 40 rebel returnees and their families.
With the closure of the peace pact between the government and the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade imminent, Lactao said this can be also done with the NPA, since they have common ground and aspirations.
This year, Lactao said, they will concentrate on civil-military operations-related activities, citing the deployment of 30 Peace and Development Teams in the countryside, aimed at assisting the people with their problems, and bringing them to the attention of local and even national government leaders.
“Rather than looking at mainly military and security solutions to the insurgency problem, we are now looking at it from socio-economic perspectives, although our traditional peacekeeping mission will continue,” Lactao said.
He said they will also release soon the list of names of NPA members, with pending arrest warrants.
Those not included in the list could quietly come down and rejoin their families, with no harassment from government, Lactao said.
“They have nothing to be afraid of,” he stressed.
Lactao said he observed that some rebels are afraid to come down from the mountains, for fear of being arrested, although they have no pending arrest warrants.*GPB