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Commuters go down a military truck as they offer a free ride after public transportation have been halted due to the enhanced community quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus along an almost empty hi-way in Manila, Philippines. Image Credit: AP

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral cease-fire with communist guerrillas on Wednesday to focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak that prompted him to place the northern third of the country under quarantine.

Duterte ordered the military and police to stop offensives against New People's Army guerrillas during the cease-fire, which is to start Thursday and end April 15.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano ordered the national police to shift to a defensive posture. He urged the Marxist guerrillas to respond with their own cease-fire.

"We call on them to be a part of the solution in fighting our common enemy, the coronavirus,'' Ano said in a statement.

"Through this cease-fire, the Philippine government aspires that the swift provision of public health assistance goes unimpeded with the movement of health workers and medical supplies to communities,'' presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

Duterte launched peace talks with the rebels when he took office in mid-2016. But the negotiations, brokered by the Netherlands, eventually bogged down with both sides accusing the other of continuing to carry out attacks.

Although he has often lashed out at the rebels, Duterte has repeatedly given signs that he is open to resuming negotiations with the rural-based insurgents, estimated by the military to number less than 5,000 nationwide.

The insurgency has raged for more than half a century, making it one of Asia's longest-running rebellions.