A series of gun battles between troops and communist rebels in the southern Philippines killed a soldier and two civilians this week amid a crackdown ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte, the military said Wednesday.
The soldier who died, Roger Badayos, was with a unit responding to a report that guerrillas with the communist New People’s Army (NPA) were massing in a remote village near Butuan City, in the country’s far south, said Capt. Anthony Pueblas, spokesman for the 402 Infantry Brigade.
“The encounter happened around noon Monday as our troops approached the village,” Pueblas said.
The rebels appear to be encroaching increasingly on communities around Butuan City, in what could be a tactical move to surround the urban center, he said.
The encounter was the second one on Monday involving NPA guerrillas. Troops also clashed with a rebel unit near the town of Kitcharao in nearby Agusan del Norte province.
On Sunday, suspected NPA members ambushed and killed a father and son who had attended a “peace and development meeting” hosted by President Duterte at a military camp in southern Davao city last week, officials said.
The two were among several members of an indigenous tribe who had expressed support to Duterte’s call for them to “distance themselves [from] the NPA.”
The military has said that about 60 to 80 percent of NPA cadres in parts of surrounding Mindanao island belong to indigenous tribes. Those who support the government are increasingly being attacked by the rebels, it said.
The latest incidents came days after the government announced the capture of top NPA cadre Rafael Baylosis and his aide, Guillermo Roque, near Manila last week. Baylosis is believed to be the head of the NPA, the armed unit of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging a rebellion since 1969.
Duterte, a self-described leftist and one-time student of Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison launched peace talks with the groups shortly after winning the presidency in 2016.
But late last year, he terminated the talks and declared both the CPP and NPA terrorist organizations. Duterte accused the communist rebels of insincerity in negotiations by attacking government positions despite a ceasefire agreement.