Army: Rebels attack soldiers guarding aid distribution, 2 killed

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Pfc. Jackson M. Mallari (L) and Pfc. Ken Lester I. Sasapan (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 22) — Two soldiers were killed while three were wounded in an attack by armed communist rebels in Aurora province, the Philippine Army said Wednesday.

The Army in a statement identified the fatalities as Pfc. Ken Lester I. Sasapan and Pfc. Jackson M. Mallari. They were killed in an encounter with members of the New People's Army in Barangay Diaat, Maria Aurora town on Tuesday.

Sasapan and Mallari were part of the Scout Platoon from the 91st Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, which was conducting a security patrol in the vicinity "in relation to the distribution of the Department of Social Welfare and Development's Special Amelioration Program," the Army said.

According to Army officials, the two soldiers "were fired upon and treacherously killed" by the NPA fighters, which the government considers as terrorists although the tag is still pending with a local court.

The firefight lasted for about an hour, resulting in the injuries of three other soldiers.

"We mourn the death of Pfc. Sasapan and Pfc. Mallari, whose demise(s) were caused by the treachery of the CNTs capitalizing the assistance provided by the soldiers to the communities in line with distribution of SAP. They fought valiantly and paid a great sacrifice to protect our people from the atrocities caused by the CPP-NPA terrorists,” Lt. Gen. Gilbert I. Gapay, Commanding General of the Philippine Army said.

There has been a number of clashes between government forces and the NPA despite the latter's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire until April 30. This was in response to the United Nations' call for a global truce so all states can focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government's ceasefire declaration ended last April 15. Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte has not yet decided if he will also extend his ceasefire order.

Presidential Spokesperson Roque on Monday said there is a growing call against it, citing three incidents where the NPA did not honor their own pledge. Rebels reportedly seized relief goods meant for residents of Eastern Samar. He also reported an encounter in Rodriguez, Rizal and a hacking incident involving an indigenous tribe in Surigao.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines said the Armed Forces has conducted six aerial bombings since Duterte declared a state of public health emergency on March 16 due to rising coronavirus infections. The latestaerial bombardment was last Sunday in Saranggani province, the CPP said.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, with an insurgency that has spanned more than five decades.

Duterte walked away from peace talks with communist rebels in 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations. The two panels are considering returning to the negotiating table, but Duterte and CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison could not agree on contentious issues, including the venue for the meetings.