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‘No stand-down order, no letup in war on NPA’

FEAR OF CROSSFIRE Clashes in February between government soldiers and communist rebels lead to evacuations in Lanuza town, Surigao del Sur province, forcing this family of evacuees to seek shelter far from the fighting. —ERWIN MASCARIÑAS

The military would continue its operations against New People’s Army (NPA) until it was ordered to stand down, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said on Saturday.

“Let’s keep pushing on. We will not stand down,” Galvez told troops at the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) headquarters in Lucena City.

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Galvez lauded the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division (ID) for what he said were counterinsurgency operations and conferred decorations, including a Gold Cross Medal, to soldiers for gallantry in action.

Solcom chief Lt. Gen. Danilo Pamonag presented to Galvez several firearms and ammunition recovered by troops from NPA rebels in Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions.

‘White areas’

He reminded soldiers, though, that cities in Southern Tagalog remained to be “white areas” or those where rebels enjoy substantial support.

Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, 2nd ID chief, said soldiers would continue counterinsurgency operations “until such time that President Duterte orders us to stand down.”

Galvez made the statements as the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) prepared to sign next month an interim peace agreement (IPA) ahead of formal peace talks.

The IPA was meant to pave the way for a formal ceasefire between the military and NPA during the duration of the formal peace talks.

In preparation for the talks, several detained rebel leaders had asked courts to grant them bail so they could travel to the Netherlands to take part in the talks.

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Communist Party of the Philippines central committee members, Rafael Baylosis and Alan Jazmines, asked courts in Taguig and Quezon City to grant them bail and allow them to travel to Utrecht for the talks on June 5 to 9.

The two were among NDFP consultants who were supposed to take part in negotiations on “finishing touches” of the IPA.

Aside from Baylosis and Jazmines, four other rebel leaders—Benito Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Randall Echanis—had also asked the court to grant them bail to join the talks, according to NDFP lawyer Edre Olalia.

But just as the rebel leaders sought temporary liberty, another was captured by the military during an operation in Butuan City.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao City, said Nerita Calamba de Castro, allegedly a key finance officer of NPA in Mindanao, had been arrested during an operation in Butuan City. —With reports from Krixia Subingsubing and Allan Nawal

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TAGS: 2nd Infantry Division, Carlito Galvez, communist rebels, Danilo Pamonag, NPA, Southern Luzon Command
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