Army troops have killed at least six communist guerrillas in an intense gun battle in the central Philippines, the military said Friday.
Thursday night’s fatalities near Kabankalan city in the central Negros Occidental province were the second major setback suffered by the rebels in the region this month – six guerrillas had been killed in the island province of Bohol on Sept. 7.
Regional military chief Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo vowed more campaigns against the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that has been waging a rebellion since 1969.
“Our relentless focused military operations will continue to further drive the CPP-NPA [to] the brink of irreversible collapse,” Arevalo told reporters.
“This series of setbacks suffered by the terrorist group is a manifestation that they continue to lose their grip on the people in the region, as their recovery efforts continue to fail.”
Troops recovered several handguns, a hand grenade, magazines and ammunition from the site.
Kabankalan Mayor Benjie Miranda expressed sadness over the incident, which happened on the same day the southern Negros city was hosting a walk for peace, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
“As a mayor and public servant, I’m greatly saddened about what happened. As I’ve said, I hope that we can unite in peace and development and incidents like this will not happen anymore,” he said in a radio interview, according to PNA.
The military said Thursday’s offensive was carried out after receiving information from residents about NPA presence in their area.
The rebels were allegedly engaged in extortion in the area while planning attacks on local troops assisting infrastructure projects, the military said.
On Friday, Arevalo said military leaders were expecting the NPA to cause trouble in some parts of the country on Oct. 30 during local elections to choose youth representatives for village councils.
“The military will not allow the insurgents to use the elections “as an avenue for their resurgence,” Arevalo said.
He reiterated his call for the remaining NPA rebels to surrender.
“You are at the losing end. Return to the folds of the law now while you still have the chance. Resist and you will surely suffer the same fate as your fallen comrades,” he said.
Once numbering as many as 20,000 across the archipelago in the 1980s, the NPA’s membership has fallen to about a little over 2,000 fighters, according to the military.
The military has been stepping up its campaign since last year when the CPP’s founder, Jose Maria Sison, died of natural causes while in self-exile in the Netherlands last year.
While the military has acknowledged that communist rebel fronts scattered in the countryside can carry out tactical attacks, it stressed that it was no longer capable of large-scale offensives.
Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel in Cagayan de Oro province, southern Philippines, contributed to this report.