— With Jocelyn Montemayor
GOVERNMENT forces repulsed communists rebels who attacked military and civilian targets in San Mateo town in Rizal on Saturday, three days after the rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
An Army soldier and one of the New People’s Army rebels were killed while two other government soldiers were injured in the attack, which came on the eve of the celebration of the NPA’s 51st foundation anniversary.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said the attack “made it clear that they will not honor their ceasefire declaration, referring to the ceasefire supposedly being observed by the rebels from March 25 to April 15.
“They were planning to celebrate their anniversary on March 29 with a bang. This attack on our people throws away their so-called ‘humanitarian principles’ and expose the exploitative nature of their ceasefire declaration,” said Santos.
Santos said the attack, the first ceasefire violation by the rebels so far, showed the NPA’s “futile attempt to project relevance and power, among the many delusions of Jose Maria Sison,” the communist party founder who has been in self-exile in the Netherlands since the late 80s.
The communists earlier announced they were declaring a truce in response to the call of United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire and “help create corridors for life-saving aid” amid the COVID-19 threat.
President Duterte declared a truce with the communists – from March 19 to April 15 – before Guterres’ call as troops shifted focus to implementation of a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
The Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, based in Tanay, Rizal, said the rebels attacked soldiers assigned to a community support program in Barangay Puray in San Mateo town at around 3 p.m.
2nd ID chief Maj. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said “concerned citizens” informed the military of the NPA plan to attack, thus the troops were able to prepare their defense.
The rebel group, composed of around 30 men, fled after a 40-minute firefight, leaving behind the body of their comrade, an M16 rifle, a hand grenade, a jungle pack and rebel documents.
Burgos said the military believes suffered more “considerable losses as manifested by the heavy bloodstains in the encounter site.”
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the NPA showed its treacherous nature when it attacked the government soldiers who are rendering community service.
“We strongly condemn in the strongest terms the NPA attack on our soldiers while the latter were doing community work… in the face of a declaration of ceasefire on both sides and in the midst of an emergency health crisis. This armed attack by the NPA against our soldiers exposes the insincerity of the former in declaring,” he said.