Philippine Military: Death Toll in Raid on Communist Rebels Climbs

Froilan Gallardo
Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
2021-08-18
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Philippine Military: Death Toll in Raid on Communist Rebels Climbs Assault rifles recovered by security officials from fallen New People’s Army rebels are displayed following a gun battle in the Eastern Samar province in the Philippines, Aug. 18, 2021.
[Handout via Armed Forces of the Philippines]

 Military officials on Wednesday said the death toll in a raid against communist guerrillas in the eastern Philippines two days earlier reached 19.

Photographs released by the army showed dead New People’s Army (NPA) fighters in body bags near the town of Dolores in Eastern Samar province, the military said, adding security forces suffered no injuries during the Monday operation.

“During today’s scouring, one more cadaver was found with the help of a K9 team, totaling 19 NPA rebels who have died in the encounter,” said Capt. Reynaldo Aragones, spokesman of the local infantry unit, in his report.

The NPA is the armed wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The military previously reported 16 rebels had been killed after troops launched an air, sea and ground operation against the NPA on Monday.

Maj. Gen. Pio Deñoso, commanding general of the Army 8th Infantry Division that engaged the rebels, said troops also recovered 29 firearms.

“We crippled the rebels in Eastern Samar with the outcome of this attack,” he said.

Eastern Samar is one of the poorest provinces in the island nation and the NPA has taken advantage of the situation by turning the area’s youth against the national government, the military has said.

Monday’s raid began at dawn after civilians tipped off the military that a large group of NPA fighters had established a camp near Dolores town.

The rebels regularly visited the town’s residents asking for food and supplies, Deñoso said.

“We carefully planned our attack using everything in our disposal,” Deñoso told reporters during an online forum on Tuesday.

About 50 NPA rebels were at the camp at the time of the assault, according to the general.

He said the army sent drones to determine the exact position of the rebel camp he described as in the middle of a thick forest near a remote village. The camp was surrounded by huts that were used for lectures and doubled as bomb-making facilities.

“We were glad that the camp was far away from any civilian houses and there would be no collateral damage,” he said.

Deñoso said Air Force FA-50 jets and artillery pounded the rebel camp before ground troops began their assault.

‘Incidents of bombs hitting civilian huts’

On Tuesday, the CPP denounced the use of aerial bombs as “superfluous and a disproportionate use of force.”

“Aerial bombing and strafing are indiscriminate. Over the past years, there have been several incidents of bombs hitting civilian huts, farms or exploding in the proximity of communities.” said Marco Valbuena, CPP’s chief information officer, in posts on Twitter.

“Even with advanced drones, the AFP can only detect the presence of people in an area, but could not determine whether they are civilians or distinguish between armed and unarmed people.”

The Philippine communist guerrillas have been waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, which began in 1969.

The government of President Rodrigo Duterte ended peace talks with the CPP in 2017 after accusing the rebels of carrying out deadly attacks despite the negotiations.

Last year, the government named both the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations. In June, the government added the communist party’s political wing, the National Democratic Front, to that list and froze bank accounts linked to the movement.

The NPA’s strength is estimated at around 5,000 fighters nationwide, down from at least 20,000 at its peak in the 1980s.

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