In a press statement, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the defense chief “condemned the CTG’s failure to honor the declaration of the ceasefire, attacking troops from the [Philippine Army] 2nd Infantry Division in Rodriguez, Rizal, who were in the area doing community work.”
“CTG” stands for communist-terrorist group, the government’s term for the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The DND called the incident “a futile attempt” to mark the CPP-NPA’s 51st anniversary on Sunday, March 29. A day before that, Lorenzana welcomed the "mass surrender" of some 40 guerrillas.
Lorenzana is the head of National Task Force COVID-19, the composite body tasked with implementing the government's policies to address the pandemic,
On Saturday, 18 soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division clashed with some 30 NPA rebels in Barangay Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal.
One soldier and at least one guerrilla were killed in the encounter, while two other soldiers were wounded, according to a report by the Army.
Soldiers recovered the body of the guerrilla, as well as an m16 rifle, a hand grenade, a rifle grenade, a “jungle pack,” and some documents.
Army division commander Major General Arnulfo Burgos Jr said his troops were acting on a tip from some Barangay Puray residents that NPA guerrillas were planning to attack the Army’s Community Support Program team in the area.
The Army was merely trying to repel a planned attack by the NPA, Burgos said.
Looking for trouble?
The CPP denied the NPA was planning an attack, saying the 30 NPA members were on a medical mission in Barangay Puray at the time.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines were the ones who looked for trouble,” said Fidel Agcaoili, chair of the negotiating panel of the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF).
The CPP-NPA likewise accused the Army of violating the truce.
Both sides warily agreed to a ceasefire as the entire island of Luzon and many parts of the Visayas and MIndanao went on “enhanced community quarantine” or lockdown in mid-March to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
President Rodrigo Duterte on March 16 asked the CPP-NPA for a ceasefire to enable the military to focus on fighting the pandemic.
On March 19, Lorenzana officially ordered the armed forces to stand down, but instructed them to remain vigilant as NPA guerrillas have had a history of attacking government troops despite ceasefires.
CPP-NPA top leader Jose Maria “Joma” Sison at first declined to reciprocate the ceasefire, but he acceded on March 24, after the United Nations called for a global cessation of hostilities as the world grapples with the pandemic.
After failed attempts at peace negotiations, the Duterte administration made more aggressive efforts to stamp out the communist insurgency. Its current tack – “localized peace talks” – offers NPA guerrillas incentives for defecting, while the military continues offensives on rebel fronts. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.