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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Nine suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, three of them women, were killed as Army troops launched an offensive in Malaybalay City, just hours after the communists’ unilateral ceasefire took effect on Christmas Day.
Major General Jose Maria Cuerpo II, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, said teams from three Army battalions supported by airstrikes from the Philippine Air Force attacked the rebels in Sitio Kiito, Barangay Can-ayan, just seven kilometers from Malaybalay City at 3 am on Monday, December 25.
“Follow-up operations are still ongoing on Christmas day to search the remaining rebels in the two nearby barangays,” Cuerpo said.
The military operations against the rebels came just three hours after the two-day holiday truce declared by the Communist Party of the Philippine took effect at “0001 hours of December 25.”
The suspension of guerilla operations throughout the country is supposed to allow supporters and friends of the Communist party to celebrate its 55th founding anniversary on December 26.
CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said the truce would also allow people to celebrate the Yuletide season without fear of armed encounters between the NPA and military.
Valbuena said the two-day suspension of hostilities should end on “2359 hours of December 26.”
Cuerpo said they have not received any instructions from the President of the Philippines, the Department of Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines whether to reciprocate with the unilateral truce offered by the communists.
Acting on information from residents, Brigadier General Michelle Anayron, commander of the Army 403rd Infantry Brigade, said soldiers attacked the rebels killing nine, including three women, and captured four M16 rifles: one M16 with attached M203 grenade launcher, one 12-gauge shotgun, a caliber 45 pistol, and a grenade.
Anayron said they made sure that nearby communities would not be put in danger and no properties of the farmers would be damaged or destroyed during the operation.
“We utilized air support and artillery howitzers mainly to preserve our forces and prevent or minimize casualty to our troops during the initial encounter between the rebels,” Anayron said.
The declaration of a two-day suspension of hostilities by the Communist parties was hailed by peace advocates here who see it as a step to end the decades-old insurgency conflict in the country.
Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Felixberto Calang said he and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform said the two-day ceasefire offered by the communists should be taken seriously by the government.
“This initiative hopefully builds confidence for the peace talks to proceed,” Calang said.
For his part, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma said it would be good for the government to work for a mutual ceasefire agreement in preparation for peace talks with the communist rebels.
Last November 28, the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the communist party’s political wing, agreed “to a principled and peaceful resolution” to the decades-old conflict between the two parties.