THE government will observe its unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels despite a clash in Makilala town in North Cotabato that the guerrillas said left one of their own and eight soldiers dead, the Palace said Monday.
“The ceasefire holds. It should not affect any of the ongoing talks,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, referring to ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the communist National Democratic Front in Rome.
In a statement, Rigoberto Sanchez of the New People’s Army Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command accused the 39th Infantry Battalion of provoking the hostilities by entering a remote area where the rebels operate, despite the ceasefire and peace talks.
“They fool no one by claiming that their combat operation was merely in response to reports by local authorities of the presence of lawless groups: for the entire day, they actively maneuvered to engage the evading unit of the NPA,” he added.
But the military denied the reported casualties.
The military’s 10th Infantry Division said that while a combined team of soldiers and police clashed with armed men in Barangay Biangan, Makilala, North Cotabato, no soldier died in the incident.
“There were no casualties in that encounter between the soldiers and the lawless armed men. I don’t know where they got that information. It’s a hoax,” said the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion commanding officer Lt. Colonel Harold Argamosa.
Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao also said that benefits of the soldiers cannot be processed “if there was no report of casualties in the first place.”
Government troops and rebels clashed at 5 p.m. Saturday. Another encounter erupted Sunday at around 5:30 a.m. the next day, military reports said.
“After the 30-minute firefight, the troops recovered three high-powered rifles, several personal belongings and a body of an unidentified man at the encounter site,” the military said.
The Armed Forces said that on Jan. 20, government forces were responding to a report of rebels commandeering a vehicle of the Santos Land Development Corporation in the village of Malasila.
The 10th ID said as the soldiers were heading toward Barangay Biangan at 5 p.m., they were fired upon by still undetermined number of rebels. An hour-long firefight erupted.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said he would verify the facts of the encounter.
“I have to verify first what actually happened, but from initial reports reaching me here in New York City, a bilateral ceasefire with guidelines and mechanisms in place are becoming all the more needed,” he said.
He said that if the bilateral ceasefire will not be in place, the Armed Forces and the NPA will create different versions favorable to their side. With PNA