President Benigno Aquino III has declared an 18-day pause in military operations against communist insurgents as part of a traditional gesture of peace observed by the government during the Christian holiday season.

Aquino, who announced the unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) during the signing of the 2011 National Budget, said the SOMO would take effect today and end on January 2, 2012.

"There will be suspension of military operations starting Friday [today] until January 2, on the advice of both the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Department of National Defence," Aquino said.

For 42 years, the government has been engaged in a protracted "peoples' war" with the main insurgent group, the New People's Army (NPA), which takes its directions from the a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). In recent years, the government and the CPP-NPA have both declared unilateral ceasefires during the holiday season.