Fresh encounter puts peace talks at risk

FRESH clashes between government troops and communist rebels have again put the peace talks scheduled next month at risk.

President Rodrigo Duterte instructed the government peace panel in a meeting Tuesday night not to resume peace negotiations with the communists if its armed wing does not stop hostile activities in Mindanao, Malacañang said in a statement.

Several hours after the directive was given, fresh hostilities erupted between the government and the New People's Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), on Wednesday, July 19, in North Cotabato province.

In Mindanao, the government said a militiaman was killed while seven members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were wounded in an encounter with the NPA rebels who put up a fake military checkpoint in Arakan, North Cotabato around 6 a.m. Wednesday. The rebels also reportedly abducted an agent of the Criminal Investigation Detection Group (CIDG).

Two Marine soldiers were also killed in a rebel attack in Palawan at around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Senior Superintendent Emmanuel Peralta, North Cotabato police director, said the PSG led by Technical Sergeant (T/Sgt.) Ferbello Galleno and nine others were on board two vehicles headed toward Cagayan de Oro City when they came upon a checkpoint manned by men in military uniform with a Task Force Davao road signage in Barangay Katipunan, Arakan.

Peralta said the convoy stopped but was fired upon by the armed men at around 6:16 a.m. Wednesday. The gun battle with about 100 rebels lasted about an hour before reinforcements from the 7th Infantry Battalion and Arakan municipal police office arrived.

Peralta identified the injured PSG personnel as Staff Sergeant (S/SGT) Matumhay, Corporal (Cpl) Ayam Alia, S/SGT Lisondor, Cpl Rodel Ledesma and S/SGT Gerry Tursal. PSG spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Michael Aquino, however, said seven of their men obtained minor injuries during the encounter in Mindanao.

Peralta identified the slain militiaman as Ben Padia, a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), and the alleged CIDG agent as Rogelio Magno.

He said the rebels fled toward the hinterlands of Barangay Gambudes, Arakan. Pursuit operations are ongoing.

On the part of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), Police Senior Inspector Ma. Teresita Gaspan said that they established checkpoints to ensure the safety of the residents in Marilog and intercept if ever the rebels went to the jurisdiction of Davao City.

“Meron nang (There is) deployment ang City Public Safety Company ‘yong isang (the ones with) rapid deployment platoon natin andoon na (is in place already), conducting combat patrol and personnel ng Marilog ay nag-conduct na ng checkpoint,” she said.

The CPP Information Bureau tweeted Wednesday that the 1st Pulang Bagani Company of NPA Southern Mindanao had put up a checkpoint along the Davao City-North Cotabato-Bukidnon boundaries "amid Mindanao martial law." The rebels "held" a PSG vehicle and "arrested" a CIDG agent.

In Palawan, the government reported that two Marines were killed after the NPA attacked the 4th Marine Battalion Land Team (MBLT) in Barangay Magara, Roxas at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Senior Superintendent Gabriel Lopez, Palawan provincial police director, identified the victims as Private First Class Joene Gagogas Galiste and Private James Melchor Porol.

The CPP Information Bureau, on the other hand, tweeted and later issued a statement that the Roxas incident, one of two rebel attacks in Palawan, was perpetrated by NPA North Palawan.

The CPP said NPA South Palawan also blasted an M35 truck of the 4th MBLT at 1:05 p.m. Tuesday in Barangay Tarusan, Bataraza. Government reported no casualties, but the rebels claimed that one soldier was killed while another was wounded.

Malacañang said Duterte met with government peace negotiators Tuesday night to discuss the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front (NDF), political arm of CPP, during the scheduled 5th round of talks in August.

Duterte reportedly directed the government peace panel not to push through with the peace dialogue unless the communists “agree to stop their attacks against government troops in Mindanao.”

The Chief Executive was quoted as saying: “The Reds really need to stop engaging the military in Mindanao, if they want to continue the peace negotiations. The government has always dealt with the communist rebels in good faith.”

Earlier, the President also stressed that there would be no peace negotiations unless the communists stop collecting revolutionary taxes.

In a statement following the Arakan encounter, Task Force Davao said the rebels deceived the public when it set up a fake TF Davao checkpoint.

Task Force Davao clarified that Arakan is not included in its area of operations. The group has checkpoints only in downtown Davao and at entry and exit points to and from the city.

"Their legal fronts continue to press the call for the resumption of peace talks, yet they continue to initiate atrocities that interrupt the peace process. This is a clear manifestation that they are not committed to (the) peace talks," Davao's security group said.

The 5th round of peace talks between the government peace panel and the NDF consultants was supposed to have occurred on May 27 to June 2. The talks were cancelled after the government said it would not participate because of “serious challenges” faced by both parties.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chief peace negotiator, later on announced that the talks would resume in August in a bid to achieve “enduring and lasting peace” in the country. Bello is set to conduct back channel talks with the NDF later this month as a prelude to the formal negotiations.

The task force reminded the public to be alert and vigilant and to immediately report to the authorities any information of suspicious presence of new individuals and their actions to their hotline number: +639173057826/ +639199983386 or at landline 224-0911. (SunStar Philippines/SunStar Davao/With PNA)

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