DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 January) — The New People’s Army has continued to carry out attacks, abductions and killings in Caraga and Davao Regions despite the unilateral ceasefire declarations issued by both the government and the National Democratic Front, the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday.
EastMinCom spokesperson Maj. Ezra Balagtey said on midnight Monday NPA rebels fired at an Army unit in Mat-i, Surigao City. Three soldiers were wounded in the 15-minute firefight.
Shortly after, three more attacks took place in San Isidro, Mahayahay, and Hinambangan all of Kitcharao town in Agusan Del Norte, he said.
“These atrocities ran contrary to the spirit of the peace process especially in the delivery of basic services to support far flung communities,” he said, adding the soldiers went there to help deliver basic services along with other government agencies.
Balagtey also said alleged NPA rebels abducted Pfc Erwin Salan of 30th Infantry Battalion in Lumondo Falls, Budlingin, Alegria, Surigao del Norte on Sunday afternoon.
He said Salan was unarmed and was with three civilians at the time.
Ka Oto, spokesperson of Guerrilla Force 16 of the NPA operating in Surigao del Norte said he could not confirm the abduction as yet. “I’ll contact our operating in the concerned area,” he told MindaNews on Sunday.
The National Democratic Front (NDF) too was yet to issue a statement on Salan’s abduction.
On January 16, suspected NPA rebels killed Albert Sablada in Brgy. Saloy, Calinan in Davao City allegedly for being an organizer of the paramilitary group Alamara.
A week after, Neptali Alfredo in Tabaon, Malabog, Paquibato District, Davao City was killed allegedly for being tagged as a drug supplier.
In a separate interview, Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of 4th Infantry Division, accused the NPA of throwing two hand grenades at troops undertaking relief operations in Barangay Concepcion, Valencia City in Bukidnon on Monday.
Fortunately, he said, the grenades, which landed a few meters from the evacuation centers, did not explode.
Lt. General Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command called on the NPA to desist from staging more attacks, saying these could imperil the ongoing peace negotiation.
“We call on the CNN (CPP/NPA/NDF) to show sincerity in their peace talks with the government by directing their armed members to immediately desist from committing atrocities,” he further said.
“In the meantime we will continue to abide by our own ceasefire declaration and observe the suspension of offensive military operations. We will, however, continue to exercise/perform our mandate of protecting the people and the communities against attacks by armed threat groups,” he said.
“Distressed and disturbed”
In a statement Tuesday, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said “we are distressed and extremely disturbed by the recent series of attacks and harassments by alleged NPA elements in various areas nation-wide.”
Dureza said that “either some in NDF leadership talking to the government are not in full control of their own forces on the ground or they are themselves undermining these efforts for sustainable peace, or pressuring government for certain concessions.”
He, however, assured “the President will definitely walk the extra mile for peace. but our counterparts on the other side of the peace table must also reciprocate accordingly and do the same.”
“We do not wish to unnecessarily squander those gains that even saw President duterte exercising strong political will to move the peace process forward.”
He cited that the unilateral ceasefire “was precisely set in place to provide an enabling environment for the ongoing peace talks and also to secure the support of the stakeholders and the bigger public in understanding and supporting these unprecedented, although small but significant steps, for sustainable peace in the land.”
War on drugs as excuse?
For its part, the NPA had blamed the occurrence of skirmishes on alleged continuing military operations in the guise of anti-illegal drug operations, among others.
On January 27, the NPA-Southern Mindanao in a statement said that the 71st Infantry Battalion, militiamen and members of the police Special Action Force launched an operation in Brgy. Taguranao, Matalam, North Cotabato.
The NPA claimed that three government operatives were killed after a 45-minute firefight.
“The AFP and the PNP cannot hide behind the convenient excuse of an ‘anti-crime or anti-drug’ operation. The assaulting composite enemy troops chose to engage the NPA unit early in the morning to preempt the Red fighters’ evasive measures.” the statement said..
“The NPA sternly condemns this recent violation of the GPH’s ceasefire declaration, especially as it comes merely five days since their last combat operation that resulted in an armed clash with the NPA in Makilala town. This reality of the AFP and PNP’s outright non-compliance alarmingly puts the commitment of the GPH in the peace process into serious question.
“The revolutionary forces are wondering whether the GPH panel, and indeed Pres. Duterte, have either the control of their armed forces to effectively implement its proposed bilateral ceasefire or the political resolve to investigate and punish the insidious saboteurs to the peace process. Whatever the case, it would appear that a bilateral ceasefire agreement would be pointless in the face of relentless and outright attack operations by AFP and PNP troops against units of the NPA,” it added. (MindaNews)