By Froilan Gallardo
Philippine communist guerrillas confirmed on Sunday that their top commander in the southern Mindanao region and a fellow rebel were killed in a counter-insurgency operation by government forces the day before.
Earlier on Sunday, military officials showed reporters a photograph of the dead body of a man they claimed was Jorge Madlos (also known as Ka Oris), the country’s most wanted New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla leader, who they said was killed in a clash with an army unit in Bukidnon province on Saturday.
“We support the wishes of the families to have the bodies of Ka Oris and Ka Pica be immediately released to them in order for them to conduct a proper wake and give all those who knew Ka Oris the opportunity to pay their last respects,” Marco Valbuena, a spokesman for the NPA, the military wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), said in a statement issued late Sunday.
“We hold them responsible for murder,” he said, referring to the Philippine Army, as he accused it of disinformation and demanded that “independent pathologists perform an autopsy on the bodies of the victims to determine the actual circumstances of their killing.”
Madlos, 72, was killed alongside Ka Pica, a female NPA medic who the Philippine military identified only as Mavic. The communist side claimed that Ka Oris was unarmed and there was no gunfight, saying the military intercepted the two as they rode on a motorcycle.
According to the military’s account, the two died during a firefight with troops who assaulted a rebel-held area in Impasug-ong town on Saturday morning.
“Jorge Madlos, also known as Ka Oris, is dead,” Maj. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told a news conference at the military’s Camp Osito in Malaybalay, the capital of Bukidnon.
Madlos was the “top most-wanted NPA commander in the country” and faced a slew of criminal cases, including robbery and multiple homicides, Brawner said.
Madlos was killed when elite, counter-insurgency soldiers clashed with NPA rebels early in the morning after the military had launched an airstrike on a guerrilla stronghold on Friday, he said.
Soldiers found the bodies of Madlos and Mavic before noon on Saturday, Brawner said.
At the press conference, the military did not present the body of Madlos to the press. The man seen in the photograph provided by the military was clean shaven. Madlos was known for wearing a goatee during his clandestine meetings with reporters. However, the man in the photo had a mole near his right ear, as did Madlos.
Madlos suffered from a renal condition, but Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Barandon, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade, could not say if soldiers had also found a colostomy bag near the body. Madlos was known to have one for many years.
Madlos was the NPA’s national spokesman and considered part of the rebel leadership’s executive command committee.
Since 2019, the Philippine military has been carrying out intensified intelligence operations and offensives against NPA units in the field, after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered troops to crush the insurgents in an “all-out war” before he leaves office next year.
Madlos’ death will weaken the NPA force in the south, where the fighters are expected to split into smaller groups to evade arrests, the military said.
“The death of Ka Oris, who was the face of communist terrorism in Mindanao for many years, is a major loss to the communists as his influence had been a unifying force for its followers and supporters in the area,” Barandon said in a statement.
“With him out of the picture, the CTG’s operational balance could easily cave in like a house of cards,” he said, using the government’s acronym for “communist terrorist group.”
Madlos’ group, he said, was conducting “teach-ins and indoctrination” of new rebel fighters in the area when the military launched its counter-insurgency operation. During clearing operations, government troops found the bodies of Madlos and his aide, along with rifles and ammunition, the military said.
Dating to 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies. The NPA’s strength is estimated at around 5,000 fighters nationwide, down from at least 20,000 at its peak in the 1980s.
The military says that many rebel fighters have died or fallen ill because of COVID-19. Some rebels who had surrendered earlier told the military that comrades had succumbed to the disease because they could not be taken to regular medical hospitals for treatment.
Most of the NPA rebels killed during clashes with government troops or who were captured since October were infected with the coronavirus or showed symptoms, Barandon said.
The bodies of the two rebels who were slain on Saturday were to be taken to Impasug-ong town before being turned over to the Philippine National Police for a forensic examination.
“But if they are found to be positive, they will be buried right there in the encounter site,” Barandon said.