by Aaron Recuenco, Francis Wakefield, and Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Suspected communist rebels burned the generator sets of a telecom cell site in Catanauan town, Quezon province and ambushed soldiers responding to the site wounding two Army troopers.
The attacks occurred hours before the rebels’ counterparts in Panay Island raided the Maasin Police Station in Iloilo province where they carted away at least 13 long and short firearms and communication equipment.
The incident occurred two days after National Democratic Front (NDF) chair Fidel V. Agcaoili recommended to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) “to order all other NPA units in Mindanao to refrain from carrying out offensive operations against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP)” and maintain defensive operations against Maute, Abu Sayyaf, and Ansar Al Khilafah Philippines (AKP).
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said, “Although the attack was not in Mindanao, the act was opportunistic in nature and disregards the nature of the NDF declaration.”
“We ask the NDF to call on their armed comrades on the ground to walk the talk and to show genuine sincerity on the confidence-building measure initiated by the government and their side,” he added.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said the attack on the Maasin police station should be dealt with accordingly and decisively by the AFP and the PNP.
“Since the latest statements of the National Democratic Front and the government to mutually refrain from taking offensive operations against each other cover only Mindanao, and since there is yet no mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement in place nationwide, the NPA attack in Maasin, Iloilo and elsewhere must be dealt with accordingly and decisively by the AFP and the PNP with the cooperation of civilian agencies and the affected communities,” Dureza said.
It is disheartening to note, Dureza said that such attacks “provide a negative impact in our mutual commitment with the NDF to provide that enabling environment conducive to the continuation of peace negotiations with them.”
“The ‘impact’ is not just on the peace negotiations, it illustrates the tragedy of the insurgency,” Dureza noted.
Field reports reaching Camp Crame in Quezon City disclosed that the local police first received reports that at least 10 armed men burned two generator sets of a Globe cell site in Barangay Tuwain at around 8 p.m. Sunday.
Troops from the 85th Infantry Battalion were deployed to the area but their truck was hit by a roadside explosive in Barangay Ajos also in Catanauan town at around 10 p.m.
“The IED (improvised explosive device) was followed by a gunfire. The troops returned fire which forced the enemies to withdraw,” the report read.
The ambush injured Corporals Dennis Moran and Humphry Faller.
NPA Panay in a statement said they targeted the Maasin Police Station because its personnel allegedly extorted from the local vendors and tolerated the proliferation of illegal drugs and gambling.
But AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen Restituto Padilla called it an old excuse.
“Panis na ‘yung excuse na ‘yon. Huwag niyo nang pinapatulan (You should not buy that old excuse),” Padilla said during a Palace briefing yesterday.
“They do this intentionally because their objective is to get more arms,” he added.
Another reason for the attack, according to Padilla is because many of the government troops reinforced troops in Mindanao.
“So when the forces were spread thin, they knew that they can do this, they took advantage. That’s why we say it’s very opportunistic on their part,” he said.
“So I don’t know we shouldn’t believe their excuses. They’re always a pretense of the real motive and that’s we should know,” he added.
Padilla said they are still waiting for a directive from the Government Peace Panel on how to deal with the NPA as the NDF declaration reciprocated by the GRP only covers Mindanao.
“We defer to the formal peace panel. We have to get instructions on what the position of government is. So whatever their instructions and guidance are, we will comply with it,” he said.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the AFP will continue to fulfill its mandate and conduct support to law enforcement operations all over the Philippines amidst continued NPA atrocities.
Lorenzana said notwithstanding the statement of chief government peace negotiator Secretary Silvestre Bello III that the Government will not undertake offensive operations against the NPA to set the ground for a bilateral ceasefire, recent events have shown that the upper echelons of the communist movement do not have actual control of NPA units on the ground, which continue to commit atrocities even while their comrades talk peace with the government.
“Nakita naman natin kung ano ang ginawa nila sa Maasin, Iloilo kamakailan lamang, kung saan inatake nila ang isang police station at nagnakaw ng armas upang gamitin ito laban sa mga inosenteng sibilyan (We’ve all seen what they did in Maasin, Iloilo over the weekend where they attacked a police station and took firearms which they will use against innocent civilians),” Lorenzana said.
“Thus, any member of the NPA who continues to commit terroristic acts such as extortion, burning of property, kidnapping, roaming around with firearms to intimidate people, and attacks on government forces will be pursued, apprehended, and brought to justice,” Lorenzana said.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa is also doubting the sincerity of the communist rebels when they attacked the Maasin police station despite the NDF recommendation.
“I do not know if they are serious. We are not taking their words, maniniguro din tayo,” said Dela Rosa.