3 soldiers slain in NPA ambush in Tagum

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 January)—Three soldiers deployed for “peace and development outreach” in barangay Magdum in Tagum City were killed in an ambush by New People’s Army guerrillas at 7:15 Thursday.

Lt. Col. Medel Aquilar, spokesperson of the 10th ID said the three soldiers were aboard a motorcycle on their way to Purok 4 when rebels believed to be under NPA Front 33 fired at them after they left barangay Magdum proper.

Killed were Sergeant Eliseo Toque, Private First Class Juan Valloyas, and Private First Class Mylon Ewik, who all belonged to the so-called peace and development team of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion.

Aguilar said two of the soldiers died on the spot while the third expired while being treated at the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City.

The ambush happened only six days after the new counterinsurgency plan Bayanihan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) took effect. Aquilar said it was the first within the 10th ID’s area of responsibility this year.

Major General Jorge Segovia, commander of the 10th ID based in Davao City, condemned the attack as a “cowardly act of peace saboteurs.”

The Philippine Army has been carrying out peace and development programs as part of Bayanihan which has replaced Oplan Bantay Laya, a counterinsurgency approach blamed for the spate of extrajudicial killings of political activists under the Arroyo administration.

Aguilar said the 10th ID started the counterinsurgency program in September last year.

Bayanihan, also known as the Internal Peace and Security Program, mobilizes soldiers for community outreach programs including dengue prevention, bloodletting, cleanup drives, book distribution, supplemental feeding and gift giving which used to be carried out only by civilian government line agencies.

Aguilar said the peace and development program led to the surrenders of over 100 NPA members and supporters.

Segovia told field commanders to be on alert for similar attacks.

“The CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)’s plan to divert our attention away from community works will fail,” he said.

The attack came after the lapse of the 19-day mutually agreed Christmas ceasefire to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front in February.

“The attack is part of a sinister plot to drag the military into a shooting war,” Aguilar said, “The CPP simply wants to justify their ‘need’ to maintain an armed group which they use as a leverage to attain their political end.”  (Germelina Lacorte/Mindanews)