MANILA, Philippines?Eight suspected members of a moribund communist rebel group were killed in an encounter with police and military troops in Rizal, Nueva Ecija province, early Friday, officials said.
Provincial police said the slain rebels belonged to the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB, also known as Huks), the communist guerrilla army that was the precursor of the present-day New People?s Army (NPA).
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz Jr., the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson, said the encounter occurred at 9 a.m. in Sitio Bulod, Barangay Poblacion West, Rizal town.
In a report to Camp Crame, the PNP?s Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) said the suspects, who were traveling in a convoy of two vehicles, were believed to be on their way to Aurora province to rob a construction company there of its payroll money.
Acting on a tip-off, authorities sent a team of soldiers and policemen to Rizal to ?apprehend the rebels but they opened fire,? said Col. Felicito Trinidad, commander of the Army?s 702nd Brigade.
Three of the slain suspects have been identified only as ?Ka Cesar,? ?Ka Gerry,? and ?Ka Ricky,? while the rest remain unidentified, said PPSC Cmdr. Edgar Alan Okubo.
Okubo said the suspects are believed to have been involved in robberies in Nueva Ecija before yesterday?s encounter which lasted all of five minutes.
No casualties were reported on the government side.
Recovered from the scene of the encounter were seven short firearms, two grenades and two cars.
The HMB was the military arm of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), the old Moscow-oriented communist party of which the Maoist-oriented Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was a breakaway group. The NPA is the military arm of the CPP.
The PKP and its guerrilla army surrendered during martial law to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos but guerrilla warfare has apparently descended to plain banditry.
Major tactical defeat
The Ecija encounter came a day after five suspected NPA rebels were killed in a clash with government troops in Cagayan province in what police officials described as a major tactical defeat for the insurgency.
Four other rebels, three of whom were wounded, were captured after the clash on the boundary of Barangay Lakambini, Tuao, and Sitio Talinganay, Barangay Sto. Domingo in Piat, Cagayan province, at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Two police officers were wounded, said Cruz, quoting a report from Chief Supt. Francisco Villaroman, the Cagayan Valley police director.
One of the dead rebels was identified as Jose Asco, alias Baylon of the NPA?s Danilo Ben Front, who was tagged as a primary suspect in the ambush killing of a police official in Cagayan early this year, Cruz said.
?This major tactical defeat of the local communist movement in the province translates to a serious operational setback for the CPP/NPA in the Cagayan Valley region,? Villaroman said in a statement.
In his report, Villaroman said troops from the 2nd Regional Public Safety Battalion led by Senior Supt. Teodoro Basa and the Regional Intelligence Division 2 led by Supt. Alexander Rafael engaged the NPA rebels in a gunfight.
?While the running gun battle was in progress, troops from the Special Action Force and Philippine Army formed blocking positions along possible escape routes while nearby police stations were alerted to establish checkpoints to prevent any spillover of hostilities,? Cruz said.
He said pursuit operations are under way to ?intercept fleeing NPA dissidents who scampered in different directions.?
?Police are also tracking down wounded insurgents who may have sought treatment in private hospitals and clinics in the province,? he said.
Cruz identified the three wounded suspects as Laizel Gregorio, alias Hazel/Joy, 34, of Makati City; M-Jay Dichonso Magtanggol, 24, of Sta. Mesa, Manila; and Dave Soriano, 21 of Barangay Centro, Sto. Niño, Cagayan.
The three are being treated at a local hospital under heavy guard, he said.
The fourth arrested suspect refused to reveal her identity to investigators. Her fingerprints and photographs will be processed for cross-matching with PNP records of known CPP/NPA personalities, Cruz said.
The two policemen, Danilo Belnas and Charles Urmanita, who were wounded in the clash, are in stable condition at a hospital in Cagayan, police said.
Government troops recovered from the suspects 10 rifles, three handguns, two radio transceivers, more than 800 rounds of live ammunition of various caliber and personal belongings. With reports from Armand Galang, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon