DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said last Friday’s attack by New People’s Army rebels in Eastern Samar, which left a policeman and two civilians dead, would not affect efforts to revive peace negotiations with the communists.
Lorenzana said the attack by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, may be an attempt by the rebels to show that they are still a force to reckon with amid exploratory talks for the resumption of formal peace negotiations.
He also said the rebels launch attacks whenever government and the communist groups prepare to talk peace.
“That usually is what they do on the eve of peace talks, to heighten their attack, to project their so-called strength,” said Lorenzana.
The Duterte government and the communists have held four rounds of formal peace talks. President Duterte ended the peace negotiations early this year because of continued attacks by the NPA even while the talks were ongoing.
The NPA also steps up attacks during anniversaries. The CPP will mark its 50th anniversary on December 26.
Lorenzana said government efforts to convince the NPA members to re-join society will continue amid the talks.
President Duterte has ordered Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, former chief peace negotiator for government, to talk with CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, about the possibility of resuming the talks, which the President ended in March.
Last week, Bello reported that the communist leaders have agreed to resume the talks. Sison, however, said there are still “plenty of things to do” before the formal talks can resume.
Lorenzana said the military operations will continue. “Our combat operations (will continue) against their armed components who continue to wage war. No let-up, even during peace talks.”
The defense chief implied last Friday’s rebel attack was expected in a counter-insurgency campaign.
The rebels detonated two improvised on a police car in Borongan City on Friday before opening fire, killing a policeman and two civilians, including a 69-year-old grandmother. At least nine others, including three children, were injured.
“The CPP/NPA declared war against the government and has been waging it for 50 years, bringing untold misery to our people. This is war. We win some and we lose some. Our security forces should accept these losses as the price we pay to preserve our freedom and democracy,” said Lorenzana.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the military “strongly condemns the heinous attack” by the NPA “in this season of hope, peace, and joy.”
“This is the same notorious group that masquerades themselves as pro-people and pro-human rights,” he said.
He also said AFP chief Gen. Noel Clement expressed his condolences to the families and “assure them that we are one with them in the quest for justice.”
In Sorsogon yesterday, NPA leader Robert Estiller alias Cindy and Meo, and three of his men were killed in a firefight with government troops in Matnog town.
Maj. Ricky Anthony Aguilar, spokesman of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division based in Pili, Camarines Sur, said Estiller is the commanding officer of the NPA’s Sentro de Grabidad, Larangan 2 of the Komiteng Probinsya of the Bicol Regional Party Committee operating in the towns of Bulan, Irosin, Matnog, Magallanes, Castilla and Juban, all in Sorsogon.
Aguilar said troops from the Army’s 31st Infantry Battalion and 91st Division Reconnaissance Company and police units were on combat operation when they clashed with about 60 rebels in Barangay Tugas at around 5:50 a.m.
Aguilar said the rebels withdrew about one-and-a-half hours later, leaving behind the bodies of Estiller and the three other unidentified rebels.
No one was reported killed or injured on the government side.
Also recovered from the scene were a 5.56mm M653 rifle with a 40mm M203 grenade launcher, a 5.56mm M16A1 rifle with a 40mm M203 grenade launcher, and two 5.56mm M16A1 rifles.
Aguilar said the military launched the operation based on information from informants who reported the rebels were plotting atrocities in connection with the CPP’s celebration of the 51st anniversary.