At least six suspected communist guerrillas and a government soldier were killed during a firefight in the northern Philippines that also left a bystander dead, the military confirmed on Sunday.
Five soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 702nd Infantry Brigade were wounded in the clash with members of the New People’s Army (NPA) on Saturday near Santa Lucia town in Ilocos Sur, a northwestern province on the main Philippine island of Luzon, the military said in a report.
“The exchange of gunfire claimed the lives of six rebels, one soldier and a civilian,” the report from the military’s Northern Luzon Command said without elaborating. It identified the rebel unit as part of the NPA’s Ilocos front under the command of a certain leader called “Nero.”
The clash was the deadliest between government forces and suspected members of the NPA – the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – since June 18, when a military unit killed five communist guerrillas during a shootout on Negros Island in the central Philippines.
The NPA has been waging a rebellion against the Philippine government since 1969 – Asia’s longest running insurgency. 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.
Saturday’s clash broke out on in the afternoon, while the infantry unit was patrolling near Santa Lucia, and lasted into the night, the regional command said in its report.
A civilian died after being struck by crossfire, while at least two other civilians were being treated at a local hospital after being wounded as well, the municipality’s disaster risk monitoring unit said.
About 200 other people had to be evacuated during the firefight, it said.
The clash was the third to take place in the area between government forces and NPA rebels in less than a month. A soldier was killed in of the earlier clashes, the military said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, once a student of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, had initially sought peace talks with the group when he took office as the Philippine chief executive in mid-2016. But he subsequently called off that effort after accusing the guerrillas of not stopping attacks against government forces.
This past April, Duterte rejected the possibility of reviving peace talks with the CPP-NPA. At the time, he accused the guerrillas of attacking soldiers involved in humanitarian work as the country struggled to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It is a sad thing to know that my soldiers are being slain even when doing the most honorable work of accompanying government workers delivering money and food,” the president said then.
He also warned the rebels that “there’s always a time for reckoning.”
“There’s no more peace talks to talk about,” Duterte said.