As the leadership of the communist movement talks peace, armed rebels launched an ambush in Borongan, Samar against policemen that resulted to the death of one cop and the injury of five others.
An anti-personnel mine was detonated on the road where a police vehicle was passing but which also caused the death of a 69-year-old woman and the wounding of 15 other civilians including minors and an infant.
The Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division strongly condemned the attack that was positively traced to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
“We demand justice and extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those killed,” 8th ID commander Maj. Gen. Pio Diñoso said in a statement.
“This fight is not just the fight of the police and military but the whole of Eastern Visayas against the NPA terrorists,” he added.
Authorities said the attack is possibly connected to the coming CPP anniversary on 26 December.
“This only proves that they don’t respect civilians. They don’t respect human rights. Above all, they have no regard for the lives of others, even that of an innocent child. They have no conscience,” lamented Diñoso.
“Instead of the families of the victims celebrating this Christmas, the terrorists caused them pain and suffering,” the official indicated.
The attack came just days after President Rodrigo Duterte said he is considering the communist rebels his “friends” and again offered peace negotiations to CPP founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison.
On 7 December, the President announced that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, former state chief peace negotiator, would hold a dialogue with Sison in The Netherlands for the possible revival of peace talks between the national government and the National Democratic Front.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar denounced the attack as being “treacherous.”
The PCOO chief was saddened that the “senseless” act of the NPA rebels came during the Yuletide season.
“We vehemently condemn the NPA attack in Barangay Libuton,” Andanar said in a statement.
An estimated 50 members of the NPA staged the grim ambush at the boundary of barangays Hindang and Libuton, around five kilometers away from Borongan City proper.
The attack came less than two weeks before the 51st founding anniversary of the CPP.
Killed in the ambush were Patrolman Mark Jerome Rama, 27 years old, Agripena Traboco, 69 years old, and Anthony Balayanto, a driver of Taft local government unit. Rama, who got married in 23 November this year, left behind a pregnant widow. Balayanto died while he was being transported to Tacloban City for treatment.
Witnesses say the target of the ambush was a patrol car of 1st Eastern Samar Provincial Mobile Force Company (ESPMFC) based in Barangay Lunang, Dolores town where seven policemen were onboard.
According to a statement of Philippine National Police regional office, the policemen were riding on a PNP marked Hi-lux vehicle travelling from 1st ESPMFC headquarters heading towards Eastern Samar Police Provincial Office. Upon reaching the area, a suspected improvised explosive device (IED) exploded followed by a burst of fire by the rebels hitting not only the police but the civilians as well.
“This only shows that this (group) spares no one just to pursue their terroristic deeds against government forces,” the PNP said.
Wounded in the attack were Patrolmen Ric Capoquian Jr., Kevin Operario, Angelito Luterte and Rey Sobrepeña. Two other policemen on board the vehicle, Pat Christian Godino and Pat Michael Frank Pajanustan were unharmed.
The PNP said civilians on board two tricycles and one L300 Van passing by the place of incident were also fired upon resulting to the wounding of 12 civilians, including three minors and the killing of senior citizen Traboco and Balayanto.
Jhe Docena Balayanto, a younger brother of the driver of white van, said his brother was on his way home after bringing a patient to Borongan City when the incident happened. He said his family is seeking justice for the death of his brother.
One of those injured is Frances Radam, a high school student of Eastern Samar National Comprehensive High School, who was going home after attending a Christmas party at school. Radam sustained a fracture on his leg and was brought to Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center where she will undergo an operation.
PNP Regional Director Police Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Divina condemned the heinous attack on policemen and civilian.
“This attack is so unfortunate considering that Christmas is fast approaching and more so that we have casualties and wounded among our troops and the civilians alike. The whole PNP is condemning such atrocious act,” Divina said.
On with the show
The NPA’s attack on the policemen and civilian came at a time when Borongan City is alive and busy with numerous activities related to its hosting of the third and final leg of Philippine Surfing Championship tour for this year on 15 to 20 December.
Over a thousand surfers and surfing enthusiasts are expected to watch and participate in this biggest surfing competition in the country with hotels already fully booked days before the competition.
Organizers of the surfing competition said over 200 competitors from 12 regions all over the country have signed up to participate, which will also celebrate the country’s successful hosting of surfing during the Southeast Asian Games.
The event also includes a end-of-year thanksgiving fair involving local businesses and other outdoor organizations where food stalls and shops that will serve local delicacies and sell local products will also be installed around the competition venue.
Another big activity in the city was the Baysay Ride AKross Eastern Samar where riders tourned Eastern Samar’s tourist spots like Sulangan, Calicoan Beach, Old Guiuan Naval Base, Buenavista Junction, Canhugas Nature Park, and Minasangay Eco-Park held yesterday, 14 December.
Congresswoman Maria Fe Abunda, who sponsored the event together with Governor Ben Evardone, called to cancel the event when the ambush happened but eventually decided to push it through.
One of the organizers said the decision to continue the event as scheduled despite the security threat caused by the bombing was primarily to frustrate the intentions of the rebel group. He said attack was meant to instill fear among Boronganons and stopping the activity will mean the NPAs succeeded with their cause.
The ambush launched by the NPA and its use of landmine on police and civilians was met with strong condemnation by security officials in the region, residents of Eastern Visayas and by netizens.
In a statement, Evardone, who also heads the regional peace and order council in Eastern Visayas, said he is “appalled at the heinous act of terror.”
“This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism efforts and achieve real and lasting peace in our province,” he said.
Andanar indicated that the loss of life and the violence experienced by the victims are reprehensible. “We can only imagine the grief of their loved ones who would have spent the Christmas season with them in good health, had it not been for the senseless act of these terrorists. Our thoughts go out to all of you in this difficult time,” he fumed.
Andanar, nevertheless, lauded those who showed selfless acts to help those who sustained injuries during the explosion. “We commend the police, the emergency personnel, and the civilians who helped and protected those that they could. Their courage and selflessness are admirable,” Andanar added.
The peace negotiations were formally scrapped through the issuance of Proclamation 360 on 23 November 2017, due to the unrelentless attacks launched by NPA rebels against government troops and civilians.
On 5 December 2017, the President signed Proclamation 375, branding the CPP and its armed wing, the NPA, as terror groups because of their supposed actions “against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations.”
Goal is sustainable peace
Apart from the Philippines, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have listed the CPP-NPA as a terror organization.
Andanar, who concurrently serves as communication chief of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), vowed to convey the government’s resolve to end the armed struggle by communicating and engaging with local officials and civil society groups.
“Rest assured, this administration will continue its fight against terrorism and insurgency for the safety and security of all Filipinos, and in order to achieve true and lasting peace for the country,” he said.
The NTF-ELCAC, created through Executive Order (EO) 70 signed by Duterte on 4 December 2018, is mandated to implement the whole-of-nation approach that seeks to attain “inclusive and sustainable peace.”
During the 4th quarterly meeting of the Northern Mindanao Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Misamis Oriental, Andanar said the Duterte government has made significant strides since the signing of EO 70 that institutionalizes the whole-of-nation approach to attain “inclusive and sustainable peace” nationwide.