NPA attacks mar ceasefire
MANILA, Philippines — Just hours after the police and the military called off offensive operations on Monday in observance of a holiday truce, suspected communist guerrillas ambushed policemen and soldiers in separate attacks in Iloilo and Camarines Norte provinces.
Two policemen were wounded and one soldier was killed and six others injured in the attacks, but Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, the acting Philippine National Police chief, said the attacks, mostly likely carried out by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, were not enough to recommend the immediate cancellation of the ceasefire.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a ceasefire on Sunday night, hours after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) directed the NPA, its armed wing, to halt offensives on state security forces.
Peace panels’ proposal
The declarations came in response to Saturday’s recommendations by the government peace panel and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the umbrella organization of the local communist movement, for state forces and the guerrillas to cease fighting during the holiday season.
Right after Duterte announced the ceasefire on the government’s side, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año directed the military and the police to suspend operations against the communist insurgents.
The truce began at 12:01 a.m. Monday and would end at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 7.
Around 9:30 a.m. on Monday, however, NPA rebels ambushed officers from the 1st Iloilo Police Mobile Company at Barangay Singon in Tubungan town, Gamboa said.
The rebels, he said, detonated an explosive device on the path of the officers’ vehicle and opened fire. The policemen escaped from the “killing zone,” but two of them were slightly wounded, he said.
“This probably the first atrocity that happened despite a declaration of a unilateral ceasefire on the part of the government,” Gamboa said. “There’s a very big possibility that this [attack] is theirs.”
If proven that communist rebels carried out the attack, “we will count it as a violation on their part,” Gamboa said. “Most probably we will file criminal cases against them, but we will not conduct an offensive [just] because they did.”
The military’s Joint Task Force Bicolandia also reported an NPA attack at around 9 a.m. Monday on a platoon from the 92nd Division Reconnaissance Company, which was withdrawing from Barangay Baay, in Labo, Camarines Norte in compliance with the ceasefire order.
As in the Iloilo attack, the rebels set off an explosive device on the path of the platoon then opened fire, killing one soldier and wounding six others.
The soldiers returned fire, forcing the rebels to withdraw and seek refuge in neighboring villages.
Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, joint task force commander, described the attack as “a treacherous act” and a “gross violation of the ceasefire.”
Trinidad said his forces would abide by the ceasefire, but would remain on alert to “preempt any atrocities that the communist terrorist group plans to spread.”
For his part, Fidel Agcaoili, chair of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel, claimed that the ambuscades in Camarines Norte and Iloilo “are all based on press releases by the respective military and the police units concerned.”
“The peace spoilers are at it again, including an imagined assassination plot against President Duterte,” Agcaoli said in a separate statement.
He recalled that it was the military that attacked an NPA unit in Makilala, North Cotabato, in January 2017, while the formal talks were going in Rome, Italy, “that broke the longest ever simultaneous and unilateral ceasefires between the GRP and the forces of the NDFP from August 2016, prompting the CPP to decide to terminate its unilateral ceasefire in February 2017.”
Earlier, Lorenzana and Año opposed a ceasefire with the NPA because of the guerrillas’ violations of their own truce declarations.
The President however, approved the negotiators’ recommendations on Sunday and ordered the reconstitution of the government’s peace panel for the resumption of negotiations with the rebels.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate on Monday commended Duterte for declaring a truce with the rebels.
“This cessation of hostilities is certainly a much welcome present for the people during [the] holidays,” the leader of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives said.
No greater gift
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also hailed the ceasefire declarations.
“There is no greater Christmas wish for every peace-loving Filipino than a bilaterally declared ceasefire between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDFP that holds as long as he could ever hope for,” Lacson tweeted.
Junior Sen. Ronald dela Rosa challenged the rebels to prove their sincerity in peace talks with the government by being true to their truce declaration.
He said his doubts about the rebels’ sincerity were well founded, but he hadn’t given up on peace.
Despite the truce, the government will remain vigilant for rebel attacks during the holiday season, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Monday.
“The communist rebels will always want this government to fall. That is precisely the purpose by which the organization has been conceived from the very beginning. So it is not far-fetched that they want to eliminate all the officials running the government. But we’re prepared for that,” Panelo said.—With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, DJ Yap, Leila B. Salaverria and Mar S. Arguelles
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