By Martin Sadongdong, Niño Luces, and Tara Yap
Suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) launched violent attacks against soldiers and policemen in Labo, Camarines Norte; Tubungan, Iloilo; and Quezon province Monday morning, the first day of the implementation of a holiday truce declared unilaterally by both the government and the local communist group.
Major General Fernando Trinidad, commander of Joint Task Force Bicolandia, described as “treacherous” the attack against members of the Philippine Army’s 92nd Division Reconnaissance Company (92DRC).
The attack in Camarines Norte occurred at around 9 a.m. at Barangay Baay in Labo town while the troops were withdrawing from their initial deployment.
“One platoon of 92nd Division Reconnaissance Company (92DRC) was supposed to conduct security operation but was pulled out in compliance with the existing SOMO [suspension of military operations],” Trinidad said.
When the troops reached Barangay Baay on their way to the barracks, an undetermined number of gunmen suddenly fired at them, Trinidad said.
The rebels then detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) which led to the death of a soldier and wounding of six other personnel.
The identity of the slain soldier has not yet been released pending the information of his immediate family, said Major Ricky Aguilar, 9th Infantry Division (9ID) public affairs chief.
Meanwhile, the wounded soldiers were taken to the hospital for treatment.
In Iloilo, suspected NPA rebels attacked a group of Philippine National Police (PNP) officers in Tubungan town Monday morning.
Police Colonel Roland Vilela, director of the Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO), told Manila Bulletin that the NPA detonated an IED when a police patrol car was traversing the mountain village of Singon.
The policemen, led by Police Captain Bonifcaio Alabe and Police Lieutenant Joy Melvin Dulce, of the 1st Iloilo Provincial Mobile Force Company and the 601st Company of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion, were going down from the mountain villages to the town proper when the IED exploded around 9:30 a.m.
“They were pulling out after the order for the suspension of police operation,” Vilela explained.
Two cops sustained minor injuries as the windshield of the patrol car shattered.
In Quezon province, suspected communist rebels attacked another unit of Army troopers in Tagkawayan town, Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), revealed in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Arevalo said the attack happened around 9:20 a.m. Luckily, no one got wounded in the attack.
Maj. Gen. Trinidad condemned the attack in Camarines Norte as he lashed out at the CPP-NPA- NDFP for their “gross violation” of the ceasefire.
He also lamented the use of an IED which, he said, is a clear violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
“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.
Major General Roberto Ancan, commander of Central Command (CentCom), also assailed the attack in Iloilo, noting that the cops were pulling out from their security operations in the area at the time.
Ancan said that the cops, onboard their patrol vehicle, were pulling out from the area following the order of Suspension of Police Operation (SOPO) when the armed rebels detonated an anti-personnel mine.
“This is another atrocity that proves the duplicitous talking of this terror organization that after they’ve demanded peace, they deceitfully attacked our troops. They’ve done it again. But this time the whole world is watching and are seeing the real intention of their leaders who are asking for peace – full of lies and deceit,” Ancan said.
“They demand for peace but their actions speak otherwise. We cannot let them (NPAs) roam around and lord over the lives of our peace-loving people. Our role is to protect our people and secure their communities from these terrorists,” he added.
The holiday truce was in effect starting at 12 a.m. Monday, December 23, to 11:59 p.m. of January 7, 2019.
The ceasefire was in effect after President Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison separately declared their own nationwide truce as “measures of goodwill and confidence building” prior to the resumption of the formal peace talks.
Just like what happened two years ago, the attack in Camarines Sur and Iloilo once again put the communist rebels in a bad light as the GRP and CPP-NPA-NDF pursue the revival of the peace talks to finally end the five-decade long problem on insurgency, officials said.
Duterte terminated the peace talks with the communist groups in 2017 after the other party continued to launch ambuscades on government troops despite an existing truce, hence, casting doubts on their sincerity.
Despite the attacks, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to obey the approved holiday truce.
However, according to Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong, Lorenzana advised all the military units to remain vigilant against treacherous attacks from the communist rebels.
“The AFP will remain on alert, and stand ready to respond to any threats to the safety and security of our communities,” Andolong said.
Police forces, likewise, were ordered to stand down after President Duterte had approved the Christmas truce with the NPA.
But Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, officer-in-charge of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said he also instructed police commanders to be on defensive mode for possible treacherous attacks that maybe carried out by the communist rebels.
“Our personnel should be alert, especially those in areas where NPA presence is high,” Gamboa told the Manila Bulletin in an interview. (With a report from Aaron Recuenco)