Philippine Army: Communist rebels kill 2 soldiers helping search for crashed plane

Jeoffrey Maitem and Roel Pareño
Davao and Zamboanga, Philippines
Philippine Army: Communist rebels kill 2 soldiers helping search for crashed plane Rescuers prepare to search for passengers of a Cessna 340 aircraft at Tumpa Gulley in Camalig, a town near the Mayon Volcano in Albay province, the Philippines, Feb. 20, 2023.
Handout photo/Bureau of Fire Protection Camalig via AP

Two Filipino army soldiers involved in a search-and-rescue operation for an airplane that crashed on a volcano in the eastern Philippines were killed by suspected communist rebels while buying provisions for their unit, officials said Tuesday.

The servicemen were part of a 31st Infantry Battalion team helping to search for four people who were still unaccounted for after their Cessna 340A crashed on Saturday near the crater of the 2,462-meter (8,077-foot) tall Mayon Volcano, one of the Southeast Asian nation’s most beautiful and active volcanoes.

It was unclear why the small civilian aircraft was flying near the volcano, because it remains a no-fly zone. Two Filipinos and two Austrlians were on board, officials said. 

The two soldiers, Privates John Paul Adalim and Mark June Esico, were on a supply run Monday morning in Camalig, a town in eastern Albay province, when they were attacked by five members of New People’s Army (NPA), army spokesman Captain German Franco Roldan said.

“The communist terrorist group took advantage of the situation involving the missing Cessna plane in Albay and ambushed two soldiers who were just purchasing supplies,” he said.

The soldiers suffered multiple bullet wounds and died on the spot,  Roldan said.

The NPA is the military wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a decades-long insurgency.

The 31st Infantry Battalion was taking part in the search for the Cessna 340A, which went missing shortly after takeoff from the Bicol International Airport in Albay.

Maj. Gen. Adonis Bajao, commander of 9th Infantry Division, condemned the attack, saying it showed desperation on the part of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“By killing soldiers who were supposed to extend assistance and rescue lives shows the communists’ cowardice and lack of respect for human rights,” he said.

The wreckage of a crashed Cessna plane is visible near the crater of the Mayon Volcano in Albay province, Philippines, in this handout photo released Feb. 19, 2023. [Handout photo/Courtesy of Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo]

The four people onboard were identified as Capt. Rufino James T. Crisostomo Jr., the plane’s pilot, and crewmember Joel G. Martin. They were flying with two Australian passengers, Simon Chipperfield and Karthi Santhanam. 

The Energy Development Corp. (EDC), the Philippines’ leading geothermal energy producer, confirmed on Sunday that the four were connected with the firm.

The Australian Embassy in Manila did not comment on the incident, but Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Monday that it was aware of the incident, according to the Australian press.

“The Australian Embassy is in contact with local authorities, and DFAT officials are providing consular assistance to the families of two Australians reported to be missing,” Australian Aviation, a trade news website tracking the industry, quoted the ministry as saying.

“Our thoughts are with their families, friends and loved ones at this difficult time.”

The crash was the second one involving a Cessna in the last few weeks in the Philippines.

Last month, a Cessna carrying six people took off for a planned 30-minute flight from the Cauayan Airport in Isabela province, but never arrived at its destination. To date, all the passengers and the plane wreckage have not yet been found.

Since 1969, the NPA has been waging one of the world’s longest-running Maoist rebellions. It peaked in the 1980s, when the number of armed rebels was believed to be about 20,000. Today, slightly more than 2,000 are scattered across the Philippines, according to authorities. 

Two years ago, the NPA revived its urban hit squads, the so-called Special Partisan Units (Sparus) or “sparrow units,” which were notorious for carrying out swift assassinations in the 1980s. Their most significant kill was in 1989, when they targeted U.S. Col. James Rowe, a military adviser to the Philippine military who was attached to the American Embassy in Manila.

Rowe, a U.S. Army veteran who had spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before he escaped, was the highest-ranking U.S. official to be assassinated in the Philippines.


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