At least six soldiers were killed and more than 20 others injured when improvised bombs planted by communist rebels exploded and a gun battle ensued during an ambush in the central Philippines, the military said Tuesday.
A platoon of soldiers were returning to base on Monday after checking on reports about harassment by the New People’s Army (NPA) when the guerrillas ambushed them through the explosion of six bombs in Borongan City on Samar island, the Army’s 801st Brigade said in a report.
A 30-minute firefight followed, the army said, adding that an NPA guerrilla was killed and an undetermined number of others were injured.
“They were caught in an ambush,” he said of the troops, adding that the soldiers “recovered one body from the enemy side and they are still scouring the area right now.”
The impoverished island of Samar is one of three areas where the rebel presence is relatively strong. President Rodrigo Duterte last year ordered more troops deployed to the area to quell what he said was “lawless violence” perpetrated by the NPA, the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Local army spokesman Capt. Reynaldo Aragones accused the rebels of breaking a pact against using bombs and landmines.
He said the soldiers had responded to calls by civilians about a heavy enemy presence in the area. As they returned to base, they walked into a field where the rebels had planted the bombs.
“Six exploded simultaneously, tearing through the ranks of the soldiers,” he said.
The NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies since 1969. Duterte had ended the peace process with the CPP-NPA after self-exiled rebel leader Jose Maria Sison turned down offers to return and personally negotiate peace.
The government has been enticing the rebels to engage in local peace talks, enticing them with money and livelihood projects.
In April, communist rebels killed at least six soldiers and wounded six others in a pre-dawn ambush in the central Philippines, the military said.
Members of the Philippine Army’s 46th Battalion were heading to an area near the town of Calbiga in Samar province to check on reports that NPA rebels were harassing civilians when the guerrillas attacked them.
The rebels detonated a landmine they planted along the road in the village of Biri, about 12 km (7.5 miles) from the town before engaging the soldiers in a four-hour exchange of gunfire, military Aragones said.
Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, contributed to this report.