Philippine troops killed four communist rebels in a firefight on Saturday, hours before the government and the guerrillas announced a ceasefire ahead of the resumption of peace talks in Norway.
The soldiers were on patrol when they were fired upon by guerrillas in the town of San Luis, 846 kilometres south of Manila, army spokesman Colonel Benjamin Hao said.
No one was hurt on the military’s side, and troops recovered five high-powered rifles and radios after the encounter, he added.
Hours later, presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the restoration of a ceasefire with communist rebels who also declared a truce.
The restoration of the government’s ceasefire would take effect Sunday and last “for as long as necessary to bring peace in the land,” Dureza said.
“The enabling environment brought about by this silencing of the guns will hopefully go a long way in bringing about an expeditious and early resolution to our differences and aspirations that have long divided us as a people,” he said.
Duterte first declared a unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels on July 25 but withdrew it six days later after the rebels killed a government militiaman during the truce.
According to the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the rebel Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) group, their ceasefire would begin on Sunday and last for the duration of the Oslo talks which end on August 27.
The CPP noted that the government’s reciprocation of their declaration was “a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations.”
Dureza assured the rebels that the Duterte administration was willing to “walk the extra mile for peace.”
“Our citizens deserve no less. They wish to live peaceful lives bereft of the costs and tragic consequences of conflict and violence,” he said before leaving for Oslo.
On Friday, the chairman and the secretary general of the CPP were released on bail so they could join a group of other detained communist rebels who were also granted temporary freedom to travel to Oslo for the talks.
The peace negotiations had been suspended in 2012 after former president Benigno Aquino rejected rebel demands to free political prisoners.
Communist rebels have been fighting the Philippine government since the late 1960s, making the movement one of the longest-running leftist insurgencies in Asia.