MANILA, Philippines – Ten soldiers and two civilians were killed Wednesday in an ambush staged by New People’s Army rebels in Tinoc, Ifugao, police said.
In a report from Radyo Inquirer 990AM, Cordillera police director, Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalo said the attack took place in Sitio Buyo.
Magalo told Radyo Inquirer that it was not known if the rebels suffered casualties, but police and Army soldiers have already been fanned out to set up checkpoints and blocking forces in the province.
Meanwhile, the Agence France Presse reported that the soldiers were on a three-vehicle convoy when surprised by gunfire by the rebels.
Colonel Loreto Maguddayao told AFP that the civilians riding with the soldiers were also killed.
An Army captain was among those killed, but the apparent target was the local battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Eugenio Batara, who was also in the convoy but escaped unhurt, he said.
One of the civilians killed played in the military brass band, while two other soldiers and another civilian were wounded.
The fatalities were identified as Imee Labug, a member of a band, Captain Kafilas, operations officer, Staff Sergeant Torres, Corporal Lazaro, Private First Class Salud, Lakitero, Lorenzo, Veloria, Dewaton, David, Naliw and Sanadan.
The wounded were Jefferson de la Cruz, Lieutenant Navaties and Private First Class Lopez.
“This is not actually an indicator they have superior strength. They attacked the convoy in an apparent retaliation to an encounter in Natonin in Mt. Province some days ago,” Colonel Miguel Puyao of the 5th Infanty Division said.
Puyao was referring to the weekend encounter in Natonin, where seven rebels were killed.
The incident has the biggest number of casualties in a single encounter for this year after the Al Barka incident in October 2011, which left 19 Army’s Special Forces killed by Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces.
The NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a rebellion since 1969, in one of Asia’s longest running communist insurgencies.
The government last year boasted it had decimated the NPA ranks in the northern mountain regions due to successes on the battlefield and effective community work that turned villagers against the rebels.
Across the Philippines, the military said the NPA’s strength has fallen to just over 4,000 fighters as of 2011 from over 26,000 at the peak of its strength in the 1980s.
The government had opened peace talks with the communists but negotiations reached an impasse in November after Manila rejected rebel demands to free 18 jailed guerrillas the NPA said were consultants to its negotiating team.
The rebels have since vowed to step up attacks against the military and vital government installations.
A major rebel action last year involved about 200 guerrillas who attacked three mining sites in the mineral-rich, but impoverished southern island of Mindanao.
The NPA claimed the attacks were payback for years of alleged environmental damage and abuse by the miners, but the military said it was carried out to force companies to pay illegal “revolutionary taxes.”