MANILA, Philippines — Bring it on.
Undeterred by the communist rebels’ threat of more tactical offensives following the death of their comrades in the Bicol region, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Sunday it would continue offering its “hand of peace” to the New People’s Army (NPA).
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, AFP public affairs office chief, maintained that the military was not rejoicing the deaths of the eight ranking NPA leaders who were killed in a military operation in an upland village in Juban, Sorsogon, last Thursday.
In fact, he said the military leadership was “saddened” upon learning that most of the slain insurgents were recruited to join the communist movement when they were just students.
“We’re not celebrating. If the rebels think we’re celebrating (the deaths of their comrades), we are not. We’re just doing our duty to protect the citizenry,” Zagala told the Philippine Daily Inquire over the phone.
“While we’re enemies, we’re saddened by the fact that they were recruited when they were young. Their idealism could have been used for a better purpose,” he added.
Citing information provided by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to the media, he noted that one of the slain rebels, Christine Puche, was a journalism student at the University of Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, before she joined the NPA.
Puche was said to be the wife of Greg Banares, whose real name was Frankie Joe Soriano and spokesperson of the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front, in the Bicol region. He was among those killed in the encounter.
“She could have been a journalist helping our country as a member of the media. But her aspiration, her ideology were misdirected toward the revolution, which is violence. It’s really a pity,” he said.
Besides Puche and Soriano, also killed in the firefight were Pehing Hipa alias Ka Miloy; Ted Palacio alias Ka Gary; David Llunar alias Ka Rey; Romero Anonuevo alias Ka Nene; Ailyn Calma alias Kevin; and William Villanueva Jr. alias Ka Jay.
Military sources said Anonuevo was involved in the assassination of former CPP leaders Filemon “Popoy” Lagman and Romulo Kintanar.
Zagala said the military would continue pursuing NPA rebels in the countryside, saying the communists’ warning of more tactical offensives would not affect the military operations.
“We’re not fazed by their statement. It only shows their violent tendencies as an organization. We are the wielder of the legitimate military power of our country. They are rebels whose objective is to overthrow the government,” he said.
“We will continue our duty to protect the people. If they step up their offensives, we will answer them with our own offensives.”
He said forging peace with the government “is not too late for the NPAs.”
Said Zagala: “They can stop this. We could just join hands, unite and work for the country. The system may not be perfect. But we should not use violent methods to get our objectives.”
He also lambasted the NPA for supposedly attacking on Sunday a group of policemen providing security in a fun run event of the Bicol University in Gubat town, also in Sorsogon province.
He claimed the gun firing, which wounded a 17-year-old female student attending the event, was a retaliatory attack of the communist rebels in Sorsogon.
“The AFP condemns this recent attack by the NPA against innocent civilians. This is a heinous crime, and violates human rights and the International Humanitarian Law,” he said.
“The NPA is just harming innocent civilians which they claim to be protecting.”