Members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) appeared to have stepped up their attacks on government forces, killing three more soldiers in Agusan del Norte province in volatile Mindanao with another reported missing, the military confirmed on Saturday.
Lieutenant Andrei Colagong, the spokesman of an Army infantry battalion, said the soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion believed to have been set off by NPA insurgents in a remote “barangay” (village) in the town of Remedios Romualdez, Agusan del Norte on Thursday.
A soldiers was also reported missing but Colagong expressed the hope that he managed to escape during the heavy exchange of fire that highlighted the encounter following the landmine explosion.
He said the soldiers were returning to their camp after conducting security operations in the village when they were attacked by the insurgents, first by setting off the landmines they had placed along the road.
But due to their superior numbers and the surprise attack, the insurgents managed to overpower the soldiers and succeeded in seizing high-powered firearms from them before they fled, according to Colagong.
On Tuesday, the military said members of the NPA “hit squad,” called the “Sparrows,” ambushed and killed a soldier and wounded another in the town of Las Navas, Northern Samar in the Visayas in Central Visayas.
But on Saturday, Director General Oscar Albayalde, the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), doubted the military claim, pointing out based on their records, the Sparrows, who gained notoriety through a spate of killings of “abusive” officials as well as soldiers and policemen, have stopped operating for some time.
“As of now, we have not monitored supposed activities of the Sparrow. But we believe that the Sparrow unit is no longer operating,” Albayalde told radio station DzBB in a mix of Filipino and English.
Last week, President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte created a stir when he announced his plan to set up what he called the “Duterte death squad” to counter the threats posed to the security and safety of people by the NPA assassination unit.
Howls of protest from human rights advocates greeted the Duterte announcement, warning its establishment would worsen violations of state forces like the opposition and critics especially in the countryside.