(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is likely to declare this week a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels during the holiday season, officials said yesterday.

Presidential economic spokesperson Gary Olivar, however, said that the Cabinet cluster on security has yet to discuss and submit a formal recommendation on the proposals of the Armed Forces to declare a suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for a suspension of offensive police operations (SOPO).

“They (Armed Forces and PNP) will follow any suspension of police operations and SOMO if directed just like in previous years,” Olivar said in a radio interview.

“However, even in that event, law enforcement functions will continue, including service of warrant of arrests,” he said.

Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner earlier said the military is proposing that the SOMO start on Christmas Eve up to Dec. 26, coinciding with the founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Brawner said they would also propose to extend the SOMO from New Year’s Eve until Jan. 2 next year.

“This is a yearly practice that we have been doing, to allow our troops and the people to celebrate Christmas because if there is peace during this time, we are able to celebrate Christmas in a peaceful manner. We do this every year, even without the consent of the other group,” he said.

The government is currently trying to restart formal talks with the Netherlands-based National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella organization of all mainstream communist groups in the country, including the CPP, the New People’s Army (NPA), and leftist front organizations.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Victor Ibrado said the holiday truce might also boost the attempt to revive the stalled peace talks with the NDF.

The CPP-NPA has been waging a protracted Maoist insurgency for nearly 40 years, one of the longest in Asia that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people despite several attempts at peace negotiations.

Mrs. Arroyo has ordered the Armed Forces to wipe out the communist insurgency before she steps down in 2010.

The government currently has a five-year old ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front but it has been broken several times. Formal talks with the MILF resumed earlier this month.

First Family on vacation in Hong Kong (The Philippine Star) Updated December 21, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo brought their children and grandchildren to Hong Kong yesterday for a three-day private vacation, officials said.

Mrs. Arroyo left Manila mid-morning and was in the former British colony by noon, officials said. The President arrived from Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday.

“President Arroyo is in Hong Kong from Dec. 20 to 23 for a private family vacation in fulfillment of a promise to her grandchildren,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who joined the trip, said.

“She will spend Christmas eve with her cabalens (province mates) in Pampanga,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo has three grandchildren: Mikaela Gloria and Eva Viktoria, children of Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo and wife Angela Montenegro; and Diosdado Luis Miguel and Marie Angelique, by Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo and wife Viktoria.

Remonde said while in Hong Kong, the President will closely monitor developments in Albay, where Mt. Mayon is expected to erupt anytime.

He said Mrs. Arroyo has instructed Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral to coordinate closely with Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, chairman of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.

She will deliver her Christmas message to the nation on Dec. 24.

Presidential economic spokesperson Gary Olivar said the Palace sees a better year next year as the global economy is slowly recovering from the crisis. The government is projecting a two to three percent growth in 2010.

“We are hopeful that we will able to realize that (growth) so that we can go back fully on track to long term growth that is the going to be the legacy of the President and whoever will succeed her can continue this,” Olivar told the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.

He said the remittances from overseas Filipino workers as well as the growth in the business process outsourcing industry have helped minimize the effects of the global crisis and sustain the country’s credit ratings. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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