CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The New People’s Army (NPA) suffered another blow when soldiers killed its new leader in Mindanao during an encounter in Bukidnon, less than a month after he assumed the post, the military said on Tuesday, January 25.
Military authorities identified the rebel leader as 72-year-old Pedro Codaste, said to be the head of the Komisyon Mindanao (Mindanao Commission) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) chief in Mindanao.
Brigadier General Adonis Ariel Orio, commander of the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade, said Codaste and his aide, only known as Ka Zandro, were found dead after a 30-minute exchange of firepower between government and rebel forces in Sitio Guiling-Guiling, Barangay Kalabugao in Impasug-ong town, Bukidnon on Friday, January 21.
A photo released by the military showed a soldier wearing personal protective equipment checking the remains of Codaste in a body bag.
Orio said villagers were the ones who informed the military about the sighting of Codaste and at least 15 other rebels in the forests of Sitio Guiling-Guiling, prompting the Army’s 16th Infantry Battalion to send troops to the area.
They clashed with the rebels at around 5:30 am on Friday, he said.
“We had to fire several rounds of 81mm mortars to get to the rebels,” said Orio.
He said the rest of the rebels fled, leaving the two bodies behind.
Orio said soldiers found an AK-47, a caliber .45 pistol, an anti-personnel mine, and three backpacks with documents from the encounter site.
Brigadier General Oliver Veslino, acting commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said Codaste had just taken over the leadership of the CPP’s Mindanao commission following the January 5 killing of Menandro Villanueva during an encounter in Mabini, Davao de Oro.
Veslina said Codaste rose in the commission after the deaths of Jorge Madlos and Villanueva.
Codaste, who hailed from Barangay Fili, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur, was elected as a member of the CPP’s Central Committee during its 2nd plenum in 2016. He had also served as a consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF) during the peace talks with the government in Oslo, Norway.
After breaking off with the peace talks, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of Codaste and other NDF consultants.
Major Francisco Garello Jr., 4th ID spokesman, said Codaste had faced a string of murder and homicide cases in Bayugan and Malaybalay cities. – Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship