85th IBPA suffers casualties in Lopez ambush–NPA

The New People’s Army (NPA) in Quezon said it ambushed troopers of the Philippine Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Cogorin Ibaba, Lopez, Quezon Monday night.

The NPA’s Apolonio Mendoza Command (NPA-AMC) said it ambushed 10 government soldiers on board a truck as well as their reinforcements in two separate fire fights.

While not giving an exact number, the guerrillas said they have confirmed casualties on the state forces while suffering no casualties of their own in the clashes that lasted about 20 minutes.

“The tactical offensive was part of the NPA’s defense of farmers’ communities under the red territory of the revolutionary movement,” the rebels said in Filipino.

“While the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) has opened a new window for the resumption of peace negotiations, its military continues to attack farmers communities, forcing the NPA to launch a counter attack,” NPA-AMC spokesperson Cleo del Mundo added.

Del Mundo said military operations terrorize civilians in the area that disobeys President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncements for the creation of an enabling environment before the resumption for formal negotiations between the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“In the past week alone, five barangays in three towns [in Bondoc Peninsula] have been militarized by at least a company-sized contingent of soldiers,” del Mundo said.

The rebel spokesperson said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) soldiers have descended on Barangays San Francisco B, San Miguel Dao, Veronica and Jongo in Lopez town, Cauayan in Gumaca town, and Bulagsong in Catanauan town.

Del Mundo explained that the farmers could no longer tend to their coconut farms and their farm animals since the AFP launched their military operations last week.

“The residents are also terrorized by the soldiers’ fake census that have resulted in fake surrender ceremonies in the past, as what happened in Barangay Jongo last February where 11 farmers who were paraded before Duterte in Malacañang came from,” del Mundo said.

The AFP website has no statement on the reported clash.

The NPA attack happened less than two weeks before both the NDFP and the GRP are supposed to jointly declare a “stand down” order for both the NPA on one hand and the AFP and the Philippine National Police on the other as a goodwill measure for the resumption of formal peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

The NDFP and the GRP are expected to approve an interim peace agreement that would include a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, a general amnesty declaration for about 520 NDFP-listed political prisoners and agrarian reform and rural development as well as national industrialization and economic development agreements at the end of the month.

The parties said the social and economic reform agreements are meant to address the root causes of the armed conflict between NDFP forces and the GRP. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)