The New People’s Army unit attacked in Iloilo province Wednesday morning, April 8, was conducting a corona virus disease (Covid-19) information drive when attacked by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) troopers, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said.
In a statement, the CPP said Jose Percival Estocada Jr. Command guerrillas were distributing flyers about Covid-19 and explaining the disease to the villagers of Sitio Agilan, Barangay Panuran, Lambunao town when fired upon by troopers of the AFP’s 301st Infantry Brigade.
“The NPA and its medical officers were conducting an information drive in the said area,” the group said.
According to the CPP, the NPA in Central Panay reported that they were also discussing problems posed by the “military lockdown” and possible collective production in anticipation of the widespread effect of the health crisis when a Philippine Army unit arrived and fired at them.
“Forced to defend themselves and the villagers, the NPA fired counter-shots and safely withdrew from the incident,” the CPP said.
In a radio interview in Iloilo City a few hours after the fire fight, 3rd Infantry Division spokesperson Captain Cenon Pancito III said their soldiers were patrolling the area when the encounter happened.
A spot report on the incident says soldiers led by one 2Lt. Roel Duran were conducting “pre-emptive security patrol” when they encountered more or less 20 NPA guerrillas.
The CPP however said the incident is another ceasefire violation, the ninth since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the government’s unilateral ceasefire declaration last March 19 to enable the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to focus on containing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heeding the plea of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and upon the recommendation of National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, the CPP issued its own unilateral ceasefire agreement last March 23.
The CPP said that its ceasefire order, to end alongside the government’s on April 15, is its contribution to the nationwide campaign to defeat the dreaded virus.
CPP’s truce order was welcomed by Malacañang Palace as a “positive development.”
The AFP however has launched military operations in Rizal, Quezon, Davao del Norte Bukidnon, Zamboanga Sibugay and Iloilo provinces after the two ceasefire declarations.
The operations have resulted in the death of two NPA guerrillas and two AFP soldiers and the wounding of two others on the government side.
“While [we] strictly cease launching tactical offensives in accordance with the ceasefire declared by the CPP, we are prepared to defend against AFP and PNP attacks,” the NPA in Central Panay said.
“Our units will continue efforts to help the people against Covid-19, whatever the 301st Brigade does,” the NPA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)