Communist rebels in the Philippines have withdrawn the unilateral cease-fire they declared last year with the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, citing his administration’s failure to release all political prisoners and the military’s alleged encroachment on territory under their control.

In a statement posted Wednesday on its official website, the New People’s Army, the armed wing of Communist Party of the Philippines, said the August 2016 unilateral declaration of interim cease-fire is terminated as of the late on Feb. 10.

“From today until the expiration of the cease-fire declaration, all commands and units of the NPA, including the people’s militia and self-defense corps, are tasked to take the initiative and more vigorously carry out active defense in order to defend the people and revolutionary forces,” said NPA spokesperson Ka Oris.

Ka Oris said they must counteract, frustrate, and punish the Armed Forces of the Philippines, pro-government militiamen, and the Philippine National Police, including interior patrol operations.

According to him, the government has not complied with its obligation to amnesty and release all political prisoners and in fulfillment of the promise of President Duterte.

“The unilateral cease-fire declaration was issued on the mutual understanding with the government panel that such releases would take effect within 60 days of Aug. 28,” he said.

The NPA said the Duterte regime failed to fulfill the obligation even though the CPP obliged it by extending the cease-fire declaration to more than 150 days.

“The GRP [government panel] has treacherously taken advantage of the unilateral declaration of interim cease-fire to encroach on the territory of the people’s democratic government,” said Ka Oris.

Still support peace talks

Across 164 municipalities and 43 provinces, the NPA spokesperson claimed the GRP’s armed forces have occupied at least 500 barrios which are within the authority of the revolutionary government.

Adding that this in clear violation of the spirit of the reciprocal cease-fire declarations, he said government troops have units against the NPA across the country.

Ka Oris cited a Jan. 21 firefight which broke out as government troops waged offensive operations against an NPA platoon in Makilala, North Cotabato, resulting in the death of eight soldiers and a communist rebel.

He, however, said even as they terminate the unilateral interim cease-fire, they continue to support the government and NDF peace negotiations within the framework of The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

“It is possible to negotiate while fighting until substantive agreements are forged to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” he said.

The NPA was established in 1969 with its political arm, the NDF, which is the umbrella organization of communist-run organizations, and it represents the CPP-NPA in negotiations with the Philippine government.

The armed struggle of the CPP-NPA is Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Since its establishment, the group has engaged in guerrilla warfare against government forces.

Government response

The head of the Philippine government peace panel expressed dismay about the scuttled cease-fire.

“This cancellation came just after some progress we made in the third round of peace talks in Rome,” Jesus Dureza, secretary of the Office Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said in a statement.

Dureza said they will recommend to Duterte that the government continue to maintain and uphold the unilateral cease-fire to sustain peace in the communities where the people want to live in peace.

At the same, he said they will recommend that government forces continue to be relentless in their campaign to protect civilians from harm and terrorism.

“We agree that the situation, with various incidents on the ground, had become untenable to sustain without the guidelines and protocols that a bilateral cease-fire provides.”

“We are still hopeful that the search for peace will continue and the tragedy of Filipinos fighting fellow Filipinos will come to an early end. As we always stress, the road to peace is not easy to traverse. What is important is that we all stay the course,” he concluded.

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