New People’s Army guerrillas allegedly attacked troops of the 60th Infantry Battalion conducting a community support program (CSP) in Sitio Tapayanon, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte on Tuesday.
The attack came the same day that Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison declared a ceasefire, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
1Lt. Amadeuz VJ Celestial, the civil-military operations officer of the 60th IB, said the soldiers were giving basic services to barangay residents when a combined group of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao and Southern Mindanao Regional commands hit their position.
The soldiers counterattacked, using mortar and artillery fire, as well as close support from the Philippine Air Force, which drove the NPAs away.
On March 18, President Duterte ordered all government forces to stop all offensive operations against the NPA to allow the state to focus its efforts in containing COVID-19.
National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, however, advised the AFP and other security forces to remain vigilant and be prepared to defend themselves considering the CPP-NPA’s “bloody track record of using the government’s declarations of ceasefires to launch offensives” and other terroristic acts.
On the first day of the unilateral truce, the NPA killed two civilians in Barangay Magroyong, Surigao del Sur–73-year-old tribal chieftain Datu Bernardino Austidillo and 52-year-old former rebel Zaldy Ibañez.
Lt. Col. Rolando Sarmiento, 60th IB commander, condemned the attack, with the CPP-NPA “shamefully taking advantage” of the situation while millions of Filipinos are facing the threat of COVID-19.
“With or without COVID-19 and despite the ceasefire, our orders remain to be that of maintaining the peace in the communities under our responsibility and we will continue to do just that,” Sarmiento said.