Philippine Special Forces Kill 5 Communist Rebels in Southern Clash

Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2020-12-02
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Philippine Special Forces Kill 5 Communist Rebels in Southern Clash This photo shows guerrillas with the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the Sierra Madre mountain range east of Manila, July 30, 2017.
AFP

Government forces killed five suspected communist guerrillas, including an explosives expert, during a dawn raid in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, the military said.

The insurgents who died in the firefight with an army special forces unit in South Cotabato province were identified as Romeo Libron, chief of ordnance for the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Mindanao region, his wife Merly, his deputy Rogelio Magsaya and two foot soldiers, officials said.

“They were killed following a law enforcement operation shortly before 5 a.m. in the village of Ned in the town of Lake Sebu of South Cotabato province,” Lt. Col. Randy Banaag, commander of the 5th Special Forces Battalion, told reporters.

After tracking down Libron’s group, the government troops were moving in to arrest them when they came under fire, Banaag said.

“Troops were fired upon by an undetermined number of armed men, prompting our men to return fire,” Banaag said. “They were injured. We brought them to the hospital but [they] were declared dead on arrival.”

The army troops recovered assorted weapons, ammunition, and homemade bombs from the rebels’ hideout, he said.

The NPA guerrillas, based in the Compostela Valley in Davao de Oro province, were trying to recruit “new fighters” for the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), said Floro Gandam, a mayor in the area.

Residents tipped the military off about the presence of the communist insurgents after the rebels had approached them in the recruitment drive, he said.

Wednesday’s deadly shootout came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte accused a leftist congressman and several political groups of being fronts for the Philippine communist insurgency, Asia’s longest running one that began in 1969.

It also followed the killing by government forces of Jevilyn Campos Cullamat, 22, an NPA member who was a daughter of a Philippine Congresswoman, during a gunbattle in the south last week.

Cullamat served as the medic of a guerrilla unit that fought with troops on Saturday in Surigao del Sur province. She was also belonged to the group’s youth propaganda wing.

The strength of the guerrilla force is estimated to be around 5,000 troops divided among 80 fronts, which stretch from north to south across the Philippine archipelago.

Duterte was once a student of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison. When Duterte was elected president in 2016, one of his first acts was to launch peace talks with the communist insurgents. But the relationship soured and the talks were cancelled. Duterte accused the NPA of carrying on with attacks despite the peace process.

In April, the president rejected the possibility of reviving the talks, when he blamed the guerrillas for launching attacks against soldiers involved in humanitarian work to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged the government not to give up on peace negotiations, as he backed the government’s latest strategy of “localizing” the peace talks in various geographical areas.

The situation of the guerrillas varies according to locality, so government units at the local level are better off conducting negotiations directly with the rebels, he suggested.

“Giving up on peace should not be an option,” said Lacson, chairman of the Senate’s National Defense and Security Committee. “But given the failures of past administrations who engaged in centralized peace negotiations, I fully support the present efforts of localizing it.”

On Tuesday, Lacson led a Senate hearing on the communist problem, during which he remarked that Sison, the communist party’s founder, appeared to have lost control over the NPA because he was in exile in Europe.

The Philippine government has been dealing with the CPP-NPA, apart from fighting Muslim insurgents and affiliates of the Islamic State extremist group in the south.

The Duterte administration recently asked Congress for an increased budget for the anti-insurgency campaign, after the government rated the communist insurgency as the nation’s number one internal security threat.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mariel Lucenio contributed to this report from Davao City, southern Philippines, and Manila.

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