Some 50 members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) engaged in a firefight with government troopers in Davao Oriental on Saturday morning, hours before the start of a ceasefire declaration in time for New Year celebrations.
Capt. Jerry Son Lamosao, spokesperson for the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division (ID), said in a report on Sunday that two sections of the 6th Scout Ranger Company under their command encountered the communist rebels at 6:25 a.m. on Saturday at the vicinity of Barangay Tubaon, Tarragona in Davao Oriental.
According to Lamosao, the troops were responding to reports that NPA members have been “harassing” civilians in the area and warning them not to disclose their locations.
“Report also disclosed that NPAs celebrated CPP anniversary in the area together with some residents and children who are just afraid not to abide with them,” Lamosao said.
As soldiers approached the reported location of the NPA, the communist fighters fired at the troops and detonated a landmine.
Soldiers managed to immediately maneuver to position and returned fire, prompting the NPA fighters to withdraw.
Lamosao said the firefight lasted about 30 minutes.
Two soldiers were wounded.
Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, the 10th ID commander, claimed that the troopers were only responding to reports coming from concerned civilians.
“[This was] in response to the reports that NPAs are harassing civilians, intimidating and threatening some of the residents, troops launched FMO (focused military operations),” Clement said in a statement sent to reporters on Sunday.
“The NPAs are grossly, again and again, violating the ceasefire they have declared. It is aggravating then that they bring along with them innocent civilians and the children as shields,” he added.
The firefight between the two sides happened just six hours before the unilateral ceasefire declared by the government and the communist group.
President Rodrigo Duterte issued the dates of the ceasefire that will be followed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in line with the Christmas season.