Government troops and police have captured a high-ranking communist rebel leader and three of his companions in the southern Philippines, the military said Friday.
Nicanor Pason, 51, the secretary general of Guerrilla Front 73 of the New People’s Army (NPA), was shot and injured as he tried to explode a grenade at a security roadblock in Maitum town in Sarangani, a province at the southern end of Mindanao island, authorities said.
Three other suspected communist rebels who were with him were also taken into custody during the incident on Thursday. The military identified the others as Bernard Presbetero, 47; Reynaldo Loyola, 47; and Josephine Carvajal Sumagaysay, 53.
The capture of the four is “a big setback to the local communist movement,” said Lt. Col. Jones Otida, commanding officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion.
The suspects were apprehended while trying to pass a checkpoint.
“During the apprehension, Pason, who also goes by the name Commander Costan, attempted to detonate a fragmentation grenade but was shot and wounded,” Otida said.
Pason was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, according to Otida.
Pason had a standing warrant for his arrest for a string of cases ranging from murder, rebellion and kidnapping, the military said. Authorities had blamed Pason and his group for attacks on passenger buses and equipment firms, after their owners had refused to pay extortion money.
Now that the communist guerrillas are “losing support and manpower” because of counter-insurgency operations, “we will be running after their leaders who continuously embrace the violent armed struggle,” said Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., a military commander in the region.
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been waging a rebellion since 1969, in one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies.
When the self-proclaimed leftist, Rodrigo Duterte, won the presidency in 2016, one of his first acts was to declare a truce with the communist rebels immediately.
But the relationship soon turned sour. CPP founder Jose Maria Sison – Duterte’s one-time college professor – late last year called the president a “murder maniac” for his administration’s drug war, which has left thousands dead.
Duterte has called off talks with the rebels, ending the prospect of resuming the peace process before his term ends. He said he would only agree to explore talks with the communists if Sison returned home from self-imposed exile in the Netherlands.
But Sison has rejected the offer, saying his life would be in danger from saboteurs he did not name, if he returned to Manila.