Communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas launched a spate of attacks that left two people dead, including a baby girl, and wounded at least three officers and six civilians during the past week in the southern Philippines, the military said Thursday.
The rebels also captured two police who were manning a highway outpost Monday and torched two trucks along the same highway connecting the provinces of Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte in the restive south, the military said.
The attacks, believed to be coordinated, began a week ago when the gunmen raided several remote villages in the town of Placer that left an army sergeant and a 4-month-old baby dead, the military said.
An army corporal, five civilians and three officers were wounded, it added.
Senior Superintendent Anthony Maghari, police director of Surigao del Norte province, identified the police who were taken hostage as John Paul Doverte and Alfredo Degamon. They were snatched by NPA rebels who were riding aboard two vans and were wearing police uniforms in Placer town, he said.
Hours before the abduction, NPA rebels stopped and burned two trucks in nearby Jabonga town, said Capt. Patrick Martinez, spokesman of the military’s 4th Infantry Division.
Col. Alex Aduca, commanding officer of the 4th Army Mechanized Battalion, said Sgt. Edgar Andal and Cpl. Raymart Pamplona were checking the road at a remote area on Talakag town Thursday when they came upon a checkpoint manned by the rebels.
Aduca said the soldiers tried to turn back but the rebels fired at them, killing Andal and wounding Pamplona.
“They were checking the road to see if it is still passable for our vehicles because it rained hard for several days,” Aduca said.
Aduca said officials believe the rebels who staged the series of attacks belong to the NPA’s 68th Guerilla Front, which is known to be operating in the villages bordering the Lanao del Norte and Bukidnon provinces.
In a statement, NPA spokesman Jorge Madlos claimed responsibility for the ambush of the police in Talakag town last Thursday and expressed apologies for the deaths.
Madlos said the rebel group “takes full responsibility and expresses remorse for the unfortunate and unnecessary death of an infant and the injury of civilians.”
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the Philippine Army is recruiting and arming 10 new battalions – about 4,000 men – to counter the growing communist threat. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier vowed to crush it after defeating pro-Islamic State (IS) militants in Marawi city, also in the south.
Speaking during a turnover-of-command ceremony at the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command on Tuesday, Guerrero said Army units that were assigned in Marawi would also be deployed to fight the communist rebels.
“Now that the mopping up operations in Marawi is nearly completed, we are refocusing on the NPA threats,” Guerrero said.
Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, the rebels’ political wing, bogged down in February this year with both sides accusing each other of violating a truce agreement.
The NPA, armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been waging one of Asia’s longest-running armed insurgencies that began in 1969. Its guerrilla campaign, mostly in the countryside and remote villages, has left thousands dead on both sides.
NPA rebels often demand illegal “revolutionary taxes” from firms and if those firms refuse to pay, their facilities are burned or attacked by gunmen, officials said.
“Every day, the countryside has become a battlefield,” Duterte said in October. “This cannot continue.”
Communist guerrillas stepped up attacks against Philippine targets as military forces concentrated on quelling a rebellion of IS-linked militants starting on May 23 in Marawi, where five months of gun battles killed 930 militants, 165 soldiers and policemen and 47 civilians.
Since the official end of the battle on Oct. 23, troops have pulled out of Marawi in large numbers, but a small contingent is searching for “stragglers” among the militants who have fired back while hiding.