Rebels launch deadly ambush on soldiers preparing to assist quake victims

Jojo Riñoza
2022.10.27
Dagupan, Philippines
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Rebels launch deadly ambush on soldiers preparing to assist quake victims Philippine rescue teams inspect the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital in Batac city, Ilocos Norte province, after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the region, Oct. 25, 2022.
Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection handout via AFP

Communist rebels killed two soldiers and injured another in an ambush as their army unit was preparing to assist people recover from a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in the northern Philippines, military officials said Thursday.

Troops with the 24th Infantry Battalion were gearing up to assist people in the town of Malibcong in Abra province when they were attacked by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, the officials said, adding that a fourth soldier went missing after the attack. 

“It is very unfortunate that while we are helping the residents devastated by the earthquake, two of our troops were killed and one is wounded because of the atrocities of the CTGs while the other one is still missing,” said Lt. Col. Ricardo Garcia III, the battalion’s commander, referring to the NPA as a communist terrorist group. 

“We condemn in the strongest terms possible, the barbaric act of the CTG. We assure our people particularly the families of our soldiers that we will pursue the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he said. 

Garcia declined to disclose the names of the dead soldiers because their relatives have not been notified.

Capt. Rigor Pamittan, local army spokesman, could not say if the missing soldier had been seized by the NPA, adding troops are pursuing the guerillas. The NPA is the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Rebel leaders did not issue a statement related to the attack.

The Communist Party of the Philippines has been waging a rebellion since 1969. Its strength is estimated at about 5,000 fighters nationwide scattered across remote areas, down from at least 20,000 at its peak in the 1980s.

Efforts by former President Rodrigo Duterte to broker a peace deal collapsed after guerrilla fronts attacked amid ongoing negotiations. 

Rebels killed

The attack came a day after two NPA rebels died in a gun battle in the central town of Garchitorena. Troops recovered two M16 rifles and a carbine rifle, two handguns, ammunition, a rifle grenade and two anti-personnel mines from the encounter, according to a military statement.

It was not immediately clear whether the two incidents were related, but the rebels are known to carry out attacks when the military is involved in humanitarian efforts.

In December 2021, three civilians were killed when NPA rebels attacked a community in the southern Philippines in the middle of evacuation efforts ahead of a typhoon.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, emergency response teams worked to reach areas previously cut off by the quake, which struck at around 11 p.m. Tuesday.

More than 100,000 were affected by the quake, said disaster response agency spokesman Benardo Rafaelito Alejandro IV. The number of those injured had risen to 44 as rescuers reached more communities.

“The total affected population has reached 132,208 persons, or close to 40,000 families,” he said Thursday, adding about 500 were still housed in evacuation centers.

Some residents are camping outside or staying with neighbors because they are afraid to go back to their homes, he said without commenting on those numbers.

More than 2,000 houses were damaged along with 125 buildings valued at 53.7 million pesos (U.S. $922,000).

“We continue to conduct an infrastructure audit, in coordination with the LGUs [local government units], because we need to determine if it is still safe to return to facilities, school buildings, houses and hospitals that were damaged by this earthquake,” Alejandro said. 

Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato city, southern Philippines, contributed to this report.

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