Soldier dead, 2 others hurt in firefight with NPA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 29) — A soldier was killed in an encounter between the military and the communist New People’s Army on Saturday at Sitio Malasya Uyungan in Barangay Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Felimon Santos Jr. reported.

Santos said at least one communist rebel was killed, while two others were hurt in the firefight, which supposedly broke out when 30 NPA guerrillas attacked government troops from the 2nd Infantry Division who were in the area for community work.

He added that government troops were able to seize one M16 rifle, a grenade and a rifle grenade.

The attack, Santos said, “turns out to be the NPA's futile attempt to project relevance and power, among the many delusions of Jose Maria Sison. They were planning to celebrate their anniversary on March 29 with a bang.”

He also contended that this exposed the communist rebels’ declaration of a unilateral ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic as “exploitative.”

“This armed attack by the NPA against our soldiers exposes the insincerity of the former in declaring a ceasefire as well as their blatant disregard of the welfare of the Filipino people they claim to fight for,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Communist rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire with the government lasting from March 19 to April 15 in concession to the UN’s call for a temporary end to hostilities as the world faces the threat of COVID-19.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered government forces to stop offensive operations against armed communist rebels from March 19 to April 15 so the state can focus on efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has so far infected 1,075 and killed 68.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, marked Sunday its 51st anniversary, with the rebel party telling it to mobilize its troops to contain the spread of COVID-19 through a public health campaign.

Duterte walked away from peace talks with communist rebels in 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations.

The two sides have been considering returning to the negotiating table, but Duterte and CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison could not agree on contentious issues, including the venue for the meetings.

The NPA has waged a five-decade armed insurgency, the longest running in Asia.

CNN Philippines’ David Santos and Triciah Terada contributed to this report.