MANILA: Philippine security forces claim to have thwarted a major attack by communist insurgents following clashes that left 14 New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas dead in Nasugbu, Batangas province, south of the country’s capital, on Tuesday night.
The clashes erupted after President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front — Communist Party of the Philippines — New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) rebels.
Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Burgos, Jr., commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, told Arab News the rebels were in full battle gear with bandoliers and high-powered firearms, which — he claimed — meant they were “up to something.”
“They were going to conduct a major tactical offensive, which we were able to preempt,” he said.
Burgos noted that “if (the rebels) use civilian vehicles for administrative movement, usually they hide their weapons and will not wear bandoliers. Last night, they were even the first to fire at our troops which means they were ready.”
According to a Nasugbu police report, the first encounter took place around 8:30 p.m. when government forces patrolling the Sitio Pinamantasan checkpoint received information about the presence of armed men in the area.
They were able to intercept a jeep and a van, but the rebels opened fire. A gun battle ensued, resulting in the death of five communist rebels and the wounding of two others.
Government forces chased the NPA guerillas and engaged them roughly 2 km away from the site of the first clash. The second encounter left another nine Maoist rebels dead.
Twelve high-powered firearms were recovered from the rebels. The wounded NPA fighters were taken to hospital. Five soldiers, including two officers, were also injured in the clashes.
The military said the rebels are believed to be members of the same NPA group that suffered heavy casualties during an encounter with soldiers in September.
Burgos said that after the president ended talks with the rebels, the military leadership directed all units on the ground to intensify military operations against the rebels. He added, though, that security forces in the region had already stepped up their counter-insurgency operations to put an end to the NPA’s extortion activities and preempt any hostile actions by the communist group.
Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, meanwhile, said “all available assets, including aircraft, are on red alert.”
Arsenio Andolong, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, said the NPA attacks were significant for many reasons.
“It is now evident that, from the onset of the peace talks, they never had any intention of being part of a peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict with the Philippine government,” he told Arab News.
Partly, he added, this is because the rebels have realized “they have become irrelevant” in the reforms currently underway in the Philippines.
He also warned that the rebels often “step up their terroristic activities” around December 26, the date on which the CPP was founded in 1968.