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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The military launched offensives against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, on Christmas Day as guerrillas prepared to celebrate and receive guests during the 55th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) the following day.
The military offensive took place three hours after communist rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire from Christmas Day to Tuesday, December 26, the CPP anniversary day.
Brigadier General Michelle Anayron, commander of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade, said a body, that of a male, was found in Sitio Kiito, Barangay Can-ayan, Malaybalay City, on Tuesday, December 26, bringing the death toll to 10 NPA rebels. The military initially counted nine killed rebels on Christmas Day.
Anayron said troops also found at least six high-powered firearms and other war materials during clearing operations in Sitio Kiito.
Major General Jose Maria Cuerpo II, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said there was no order for them to reciprocate the ceasefire declaration of the communist rebels.
“In the absence of orders, we attack,” Cuerpo said.
Cuerpo said he gave the orders for government troops to continue to run after rebels in at least three villages in Malaybalay City.
Anayron said the military offensive was launched based on information indicating that rebels had instructed villagers to prepare food because they were anticipating visitors and supporters during the CPP anniversary celebration.
“This was crucial information for us, as we have been pursuing this rebel group since December 1, after they burned several harvesting equipment,” Anayron said.
He said they employed drones from Lumbia Airport to triangulate the exact position of the rebels in Sitio Kiito and to minimize the risk of civilian casualties.
Philippine Air Force Super Tucano light attack aircraft dropped 250-pound bombs, while Army troops used truck-mounted howitzers to pound the encampment of rebels.
Anayron said troops used newly acquired military assets to breach the rebel camp in Sitio Kiito, Barangay Can-ayan, Malaybalay, which was heavily laden with mines.
Anayron said the Army used truck-mounted 155-millimeter howitzers inside Camp Bahian in Malaybalay City to target the rebel position approximately 10 kilometers away.
CPP spokesperson Marco Valbuena, in e-mails sent to reporters, said they were still verifying reports about the military offensives in Malaybalay.
“As of now, we cannot say for sure whether those whom the AFP said were killed are really NPA fighters or civilian residents in the area. Tulad ng alam ninyo, marami nang pagkakataon sa nakaraan na maling ibinabalita ng AFP na nakapatay sila ng NPA sa engkwentro, para lang pagtakpan ang katotohanan na mga sibilyan ang kanilang pinatay,” Valbuena said.
(As you know, there have been many instances in the past where the Armed Forces of the Philippines falsely reported that they had killed NPA members in an encounter, just to cover up the truth that they had actually killed civilians.)
The impact of the Christmas Day military offensives on the prospect of future peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) remains uncertain.
In November, both parties agreed to resume negotiations to resolve the decades-old conflict peaceably. – Rappler.com