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NPA stages ambush on Day One of truce

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
NPA stages ambush on Day One of truce
“The troops were able to get out of the killing zone,” Gamboa said at a press briefing in Camp Crame. The rebels withdrew towards Barangay Sto. Nino as reinforcements arrived.
Boy Santos

AFP: Soldier killed, 8 wounded

MANILA, Philippines — A soldier was killed while eight others were wounded in two separate attacks allegedly perpetrated by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Camarines Sur and Iloilo yesterday, just hours after a holiday ceasefire between government forces and communist insurgents went into effect.

Reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo said armed rebels fired upon a platoon of soldiers from the 92nd Division Reconnaisance Company and detonated an improvised explosive device (IED), killing one and wounding six military personnel in Barangay Baay, Labo, Iloilo at around 9 a.m.

The platoon was supposed to conduct security operations but was pulled out in compliance with the suspension of offensive military operations. The attack occurred as they were traveling back to base.

Joint Task Force Bicolandia, under Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, condemned what it tagged as a “treacherous act” of “communist terrorists” and a “gross violation of the ceasefire.”

Further, the military said the use of an IED is also a clear violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

“This action is a clear manifestation of their deceptive and ill motives, as well as their use of terror and violence to show their strength which, for so long a time, hampers the government’s campaign to attain sustainable peace and development,” Trinidad said.

In Barangay Singon, Tubungan, Iloilo, another group of alleged NPA rebels ambushed a police patrol vehicle and injured Pat. Eric Galve and S/Sgt. Ian John Lindo at around 9:20 a.m., a mere 20 minutes after the attack on military soldiers in Barangay Baay.

Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said the attack occurred when an IED hit a patrol vehicle of the 1st Iloilo Mobile Force Company.

“The troops were able to get out of the killing zone,” Gamboa said at a press briefing in Camp Crame. The rebels withdrew towards Barangay Sto. Nino as reinforcements arrived.

Iloilo police chief Col. Roland Vilela said the cops were able to return fire, adding, “We believe they just wanted to immobilize the vehicle.”

From gathered evidence, Vilela said the IED could have been buried about a month ago.

“We believe that the incident was a deliberate attempt to hurt or kill our troops, despite the existence of a ceasefire,” he said.

Police Lt. Col. Joem Malong, Police Regional Office 6 spokesman, condemned the ambush against its troops and said, “We’re already hot on their trail but because of the SOPO (suspension of offensive police operations), we did not do any offensive moves.”

While the troops might no longer pursue fleeing rebels in respect of the SOPO, they would be on active defense stance against possible attacks since the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) will commemorate its 51st founding anniversary on Dec. 26.

Gamboa said the ambush could be the NPA’s response to a series of massive operations in Tubungan over the past days.

Yesterday was the first day of the unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire with the coalition of the CPP, NPA and National Democratic Front.

In response to the directive of President Duterte, Gamboa declared a SOPO against communist rebels from Dec. 23 until Jan. 7.

It means all police units are on defensive mode and will refrain from initiating combat police operations against communist insurgents.

Gamboa clarified the directive does not cover normal police law enforcement and public safety operations against criminality, illegal drugs and terrorism. The serving of warrants of arrest, search warrants and other judicial processes will also continue during the period.

Maintaning ceasefire

Military operations of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) in Western and Central Visayas yesterday came to a halt, in compliance with the order issued by Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Noel Clement to faithfully observe the 15-day ceasefire.

While they may stop their combat operations targeting NPA hideouts, Capt. Cenon Pancito III, 3ID spokesman, however, said that they will continue to conduct patrols to secure their bases and camps, as well as communities within their areas of responsibility.

Pancito added that they will also enforce arrest of persons who are illegally bearing firearms and doing unlawful, illegal acts.

Police Brig. Gen. Rene Pamuspusan, Western Visayas police chief, also announced the bilateral ceasefire between the government and the rebel group.

“I would personally give assurance that our personnel will not fire the first shot,” he said.

Pamuspusan also announced that the implementing rules relative to the suspension of police operation were already sent out to troops on the ground.

While the police won’t conduct offensive actions, “I have ordered unit commanders to be on defensive stance so that we could protect our troops,” he said.

Juanito Magbanua, spokesman for the NPA Apolinario Gatmaitan Command, issued a statement that the NPA in Negros will also be on defensive mode, although they will suspend all their tactical offensives.

The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) yesterday gave their full backing for the resumption of peace talks with the CPP.

FFW president Sonny Matula also urged the government to include labor and church groups in the peace negotiations.

Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny Vincente Emano has also welcomed the declaration of ceasefire by the government and communist rebels, the provincial information office said.

“The ceasefire should give both parties time to talk to achieve peace in the countryside,” said provincial information officer Carlo Dugaduga. – With Manny Tupas, Gilbert Bayoran, Mayen Jaymalin, Jennifer Rendon, Gerry Lee Gorit

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