In Christmas firefight, Philippine troops kill nine communist rebels

Froilan Gallardo and RIchel V. Umel
Cagayan De Oro, Philippines
In Christmas firefight, Philippine troops kill nine communist rebels This file photo, taken on July 30, 2017, shows communist rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA) standing in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila.
[Noel Celis/AFP]

A month after agreeing to resume peace talks, the Philippines’ military killed at least nine alleged communist rebels in a clash on Christmas Day in the country’s southern region.

The military offensive took place in three villages near Malaybalay City on Mindanao Island, where troops engaged with about 30 guerrillas from the New People’s Army (NPA) before dawn on Monday, said Maj. Francisco Garello, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 4th Division.

“To minimize casualties on our side, we requested and used close-air support,” said Garello to BenarNews by phone.

He added that the military suffered no casualties and recovered the bodies of the slain guerrillas, including three female members.

“The firefight dragged on until the morning,” Garello said. 

In a confidential meeting in November with the rebel representatives in Oslo, the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. committed to resuming negotiations.

However, the move was sharply criticized by Vice President Sara Duterte, who labeled it as “an agreement with the devil.” 

Her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed power in 2016, canceled negotiations with the NPA a year later, accusing the group of continuing to launch deadly attacks in the southern Mindanao region. 

The Duterte administration also formally branded the NPA as a terrorist entity.

Philippine military chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., publicly voiced his opposition to a truce with the insurgents, arguing that a ceasefire would give the rebels time to reorganize their depleted forces.

The impact of the recent surge in fighting on the prospects of future peace talks remains uncertain.

The military offensive occurred while the NPA was observing a Christmas truce unilaterally declared by its parent organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP).

The truce was scheduled to last until Tuesday.

“The two-day ceasefire aims to allow the peasant masses and NPA units in their area to conduct assemblies, meetings or gatherings to celebrate the Party’s anniversary, look back at past achievements, and pay tribute to all heroes and martyrs of the Philippine revolution,” the CPP said in a statement on Saturday. 

All NPA units, however, must be “ready to act in self-defense” against military forces, it said. 

The CCP has been waging Asia’s longest-running rebellion. 

The military estimates that the guerrilla force has fallen to about 2,100 armed fighters from at least 20,000 in the 1980s.

Following the death of 83-year-old self-exiled Philippine communist leader Jose Maria Sison in the Netherlands last year, the government intensified its series of attacks against the rebels.


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