Saturday, January 26, 2019

At least 19 dead, 48 wounded in Jolo, Sulu church blasts — police

From CNN Philippines (Jan 27, 2019): At least 19 dead, 48 wounded in Jolo, Sulu church blasts — police


Days after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, two explosions hit a cathedral in Jolo town, Sulu, leaving at least 19 people dead and more than 40 others injured, the police confirmed.

Initial reports from the Sulu Police District detailed that 19 people were killed and 48 others were wounded after two improvised explosive devices were set off in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel around 8:30 a.m. Police have yet to clarify how many soldiers and civilians were among the casualties. 

Meanwhile, Lt. Col Gerry Besana, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) West Mindanao Command Spokesperson, said 17 people were dead, adding most of the casualties were from the Philippine Army's 35th Battalion, tasked to secure Jolo town proper.

The explosion comes after the Commission on Elections announced the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law on Friday, following a plebiscite where all provinces under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao voted for its approval.

Maute still a terror threat

From the Manila Standard (Jan 25, 2019): Maute still a terror threat

Military chases new leader in 10-hour running battle

The Maute Group is still a top security threat, a top military commander said Friday, even as Army forces seized a camp of the Islamic State-inspired group in Lanao del Sur after a 10-hour battle that killed three terrorists and wounded three soldiers.

MILITARY MOVE. Two Maute militants, including a child warrior, surrender to security forces following the seizure of a camp in Sultan Dumalondong in Lanao del Sur Thursday, when three bandits were killed and three soldiers wounded during a cutthroat 10-hour battle as troops chase the rebels alleged leader Abu Dar.

Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, called on Maute stragglers to surrender.

“We are giving them a chance to live a peaceful and meaningful life. We are calling on the remaining Maute-IS fighters to surrender peacefully to the nearest military installations before the next combat operations,” Brawner said.

The commander also dismissed Maute efforts to disrupt the just-concluded referendum for the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which would expand the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

READ: Army swoops down on Maute; 3 injured

“Is it a threat to BOL? The BOL [plebiscite] just ended, and they didn’t meddle because if they come down [from their hideouts], the people would point them out,” Brawner said. “So it’s either we arrest them or we kill them.”
Asked if the Maute soldiers were just waiting for the BOL to “cool down” before causing trouble in the region again, Brawner said the current standing force of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front―which has supported the plebiscite―is big enough to deter the terrorists.

Two members of the Maute Group, aged 34 and 17, surrendered, while troops pursued their leader, Abu Dar, said Lt. Edgar Allan Villanueva, commander of the 49th Infantry Battalion.

Villanueva said the two fighters said their leaders left them after an encounter with government troops.

Addressing the stragglers directly, Brawner said, “Take this offer now before it’s too late.”

“We will weaken their will to fight, either through lethal or non-lethal means. We will take them out of their comfort zones until they have no other option but to die or return to the fold of the law,” he said.

READ: Five Maute remnants killed in Lanao

“We are a determined force. Together with our fellow Maranaos, we will serve justice to the people who destroyed Marawi City,” Brawner said.

The gun battle in Sultan Dumalondong was 50 kilometers away from Marawi City, the site of a five-month siege after Maute fighters overran the city.

In the overrun camp, soldiers found rockets, black flags with the ISIS sign and books and notebooks.

Abu Dar took control of the Maute Group after the Maute brothers died in the Marawi siege.

It’s Official: Majority in Southern Philippines Ratifies Muslim Autonomy Law

From BenarNews (Jan 25, 2019): It’s Official: Majority in Southern Philippines Ratifies Muslim Autonomy Law

Voters at a polling center in Cotabato wait to cast their ballots in a referendum to ratify a law that would give Muslims autonomy in the southern Philippines, Jan. 21, 2019.

Voters at a polling center in Cotabato wait to cast their ballots in a referendum to ratify a law that would give Muslims autonomy in the southern Philippines, Jan. 21, 2019. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

A heavy majority in the southern Philippines voted in favor of a ratifying a law giving Muslims in the region full autonomy through a historic plebiscite held earlier this week, according to certified results released late Friday by elections officials.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was “deemed ratified,” the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said, as officials released figures showing that more than 1.5 million registered voters had cast “yes” ballots for the law’s ratification versus nearly 200,000 who had voted against it.

President Rodrigo Duterte had signed the law in July 2018, and it was placed before voters in Muslim-majority areas of the south through a referendum held Monday.

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told BenarNews he was happy with the outcome of the vote.

“This is what we are waiting for. We thank all the people who supported us. Rest assured we will implement pro-people programs,” Jaafar said.

The elections commission said that Cotabato City – long considered the administrative capital of Muslims in the south – would also be part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which would replace an old political entity called the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has been described as a “failed experiment.”

The island of Basilan farther south, the traditional home of Muslim militants including the Abu Sayyaf Group, voted overwhelmingly for the region, according to figures from Comelec.

But the city of Isabela, on Basilan, opposed its inclusion in the new region. There were 22,441 ‘yes’ votes counted against 19,032 ‘no’ votes, according to official figures that Comelec posted on its Twitter feed on Friday night.

Ebrahim Murad, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, casts his vote during a plebiscite on ratifying a law that would give Muslims full autonomy in a new Bangsamoro homeland, at an elementary School in Sultan Kudarat town, in Maguindanao province, Jan. 21, 2019. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

Another referendum will be held on Feb. 6 for the residents of nearby Lanao del Norte province and six municipalities in North Cotabato province, although the results are widely expected to favor the new autonomous region.

Naguib Sinarimbo, leader of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the political party of the MILF, welcomed the ratification, which he said would usher in an era of prosperity in the region where many areas still remained mired in poverty and violence from various militant groups.

“We would like to congratulate the Bangsamoro people for delivering the resounding ‘yes’ vote,” he said. “We would also thank the countless number of party workers who sacrificed and worked so hard to ensure that we win this plebiscite.”

President Duterte approved the law four years after the MILF signed a peace deal with Manila, and dropped their separatist rebellion in favor of expanded autonomy.

In rallying for ratification of the law, Duterte said last week that its implementation would help end bloodshed that had prevented the south from advancing economically. He noted that nearly a half-century of rebellion had left thousands dead and stunted the growth of the mineral-rich south.

The Bangsamoro law gives the south an expanded autonomous area, offering self-determination to four million Filipino Muslims by empowering them to elect their own parliament.

BOL also gives the people in parts of the southern Philippines that have an Islamic majority control over many local government functions, including taxation and education, and allows Muslim Filipinos to incorporate Sharia law into their justice system.

19 dead as bombs target church in southern Philippines

Khaleej Times/AP (Jan 27, 2019): 19 dead as bombs target church in southern Philippines

 No one has immediately claimed responsibility

Two bombs exploded outside a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 19 people and wounding nearly 50 during a Sunday Mass, officials said.

The first bomb went off in or near the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital, followed by a second blast outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack, security officials said.
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said that at least 19 people died and 48 were wounded. Police and military reports said the casualties included both troops and civilians.
Photos on social media showed debris and bodies lying on a busy street outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past. Troops in armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles were transporting the dead and wounded to the hospital. Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city.

"I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans," said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement.

Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

It came nearly a week after Muslims in the nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead.

Although most of the Muslim areas approved the autonomy deal, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The province is home to a rival rebel faction that's opposed to the deal as well as smaller militant cells that not part of any peace process.

Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact. They worry that small numbers of Daesh-linked militants could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for militants.

Security officials were looking "at different threat groups and they still can't say if this has something to do with the just concluded plebiscite," Albayalde told ABS-CBN TV network.

Aside from the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group, other militant groups in Sulu include a small band of young militants aligned with the Daesh group, which has also carried out assaults, including ransom kidnappings and beheadings.
Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding at least five hostages - a Dutch national, two Malaysians, an Indonesian and a Filipino - in their jungle bases mostly near Sulu's Patikul town, not far from Jolo.

Government forces have pressed on sporadic offensives to crush the militants, including those in Jolo, a poverty-wracked island of more than 700,000 people. A few thousand Catholics live mostly in the capital of Jolo.

The cathedral is located in Jolo town center in front of a square and near a budget hotel, a bank and commercial stores as well as a public market.

Twin bombings at Jolo cathedral leaves dozens of casualties

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 27, 2019): Twin bombings at Jolo cathedral leaves dozens of casualties (Photos)

Dozens of people killed and wounded in two simultaneous bombings during Sunday’s mass at a cathedral in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo in southern Philippines, reports said.

The first bomb went off inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and a second blast occurred just as people were rushing out of the church. Among the fatalities were soldiers and civilians.

The aftermath of August 2012 Abu Sayyaf bombing of a Catholic church in Jolo town in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Library Photos – Nickee Butlangan)

Reports said over a dozen were killed in the twin attacks and that dozens more had been wounded in the bombings. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombings of the cathedral which is located at the heart of Jolo.

The deadly attacks occurred barely a week after local residents and their leaders voted to reject the controversial Bangsamoro Organic Law or BOL in a referendum January 21 and demanded not to be included in the new Muslim autonomous under the rule of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF.

It was unclear how the improvised explosives were smuggled inside the church or how it managed to pass through police and military checkpoints.

The bombings happened despite an extended martial rule in the whole of southern Philippines, and the attacks only showed how poor the security was in the capital town. On New Year’s Eve, an improvised explosive also went off outside the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City – which also rejected the BOL – and left dozens of casualties. A member of the MILF – tagged as a Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter – linked to the attack was arrested by authorities during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Cotabato to campaign for the BOL ratification ahead of the plebiscite. His family denied all the accusation against him.

There were no immediate statement from the police or military, and the mayor of Jolo, Kerkhar Tan, also did not issue a statement on the bombings. The latest attack in Jolo was not the first time for Catholic churches in the predominantly Muslim province. In August 2013, a grenade explosion outside the cathedral wounded two civilians. And in the previous year, another fragmentation grenade exploded at the cathedral’s roof.

Previous attacks on churches were largely blamed by the authorities to the Abu Sayyaf, a small but the most notorious among rebel groups operating in the troubled region.

In December 2010, Abu Sayyaf militants bombed another church inside the police base in Jolo and killing at least six worshipers. The militants scaled the church wall undetected under cover of darkness and planted the bomb and waited the next morning before detonating the powerful explosive during a mass.

Two people were also killed and 17 others wounded when militants also detonated a huge bomb planted outside the cathedral in July 2009. A second bomb was found near the church and had been disarmed by Filipino and US troops helping the military fight terrorism.

5 soldiers, 3 others killed in twin blasts outside Jolo church

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 27, 2019): 5 soldiers, 3 others killed in twin blasts outside Jolo church

A twin grenade explosion outside a church in downtown, Jolo, Sulu, killed eight people, including five soldiers, and wounded seven others on Sunday (January 27), police said.

Senior Supt. Pablo Labra II, Sulu police director, said the twin explosions occurred around 8:28 a.m. Sunday outside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral while the mass was ongoing.

Labra said they have yet to determine whether the incident was the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf bandits and whether the grenades were tossed by motorcycle-riding suspects.

The names of the slain soldiers, as well as that of the six wounded, were not immediately available,  except that they belong to the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion detailed to secure the church located in Brgy. Walled City, according to Labra.

He said the three slain civilians and the other one, who was among the seven wounded, were passersby.

Police are still investigating the incident as of posting time.

Labra said additional police personnel and soldiers have been deployed to maintain peace and order in downtown Jolo following the blasts.

Meanwhile, PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde condemned the twin bombings in Jolo this morning. He assured that justice will be served at the soonest possible time.

At least 19 dead in Jolo cathedral bombing

From Rappler (Jan 27, 2019): At least 19 dead in Jolo cathedral bombing

(3rd UPDATE) Police say dozens more were injured in the explosion on Sunday morning, January 27

(3rd UPDATE) – At least 19 people were killed as an explosion rocked the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, on Sunday, January 27, just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was ratified.

The regional police of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) also said 48 others were wounded.

"[The] casualties were immediately evacuated. AFP, PNP (Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police) personnel are securing the area," said the ARMM police.

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) earlier said two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used to bomb the cathedral.

According to the ARMM regional police, one IED exploded inside the cathedral, and another at the entrance.

The bombing occurred barely a week after the Commission on Elections deemed the BOL as ratified. (READ: Galvez says ratified BOL brings 'new dawn' to Mindanao)

The BOL will abolish the ARMM and replace it with the powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the creation of which is expected to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro people over the years.

PMA now closed to tourists on weekdays

From Rappler (Jan 25, 2019): PMA now closed to tourists on weekdays

The military school holding educational tours inside the academy to herd the tourists instead of letting them loiter at the academy

PMA grounds. Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler

PMA grounds. Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler

BAGUIO, Philippines – As Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadets go into their March Week or graduation, the academy decided to become off-limits to tourists on weekdays.

According to PMA information officer Lieutenant Colonel Harry Baliaga Jr, this is to help the cadets focus on their studies and training, as many are interrupted by tourists wanting to have selfies as they walk along Fort del Pilar.

Baliaga said that to compensate for the new ruling, they will soon be holding educational tours inside the academy to herd the tourists instead of letting them loiter at the academy.

Meanwhile this weekend, tourists can witness the recognition of PMA Class Bagsik Diwa (Bagong Sibol sa Kinabukasan Mandirigma Hanggang Wakas) of 2022.

Bagsik Diwa will be composed of 253 male and 62 female cadets who were the remnants of the 15,502 who took the examinations in August 2017 and the 450 who reported during the reception rites.

During the recognition, the plebes will no longer be subjected to rigid scrutiny and the rules will be loosened up a bit for the cadets.

Army denies ISIS claim of military deaths in Lanao del Sur

From Rappler (Jan 26, 2019): Army denies ISIS claim of military deaths in Lanao del Sur

ISIS announced on January 25 that its East Asia Province in Lanao del Sur clashed with government troops

COMMUNIQUE. Screengrab of the January 25, 2019 ISIS statement posted on

COMMUNIQUE. Screengrab of the January 25, 2019 ISIS statement posted on

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The Philippine military on Saturday, January 26, denied the claim of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that its fighters killed 30 government soldiers in Sultan Dumalondong, Lanao del Sur.

“This is fake news and the people of Marawi City and Lanao del Sur are now aware of the lies propagated by the IS,” Colonel Romeo Brawner, the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade Commander, said in a text message to Rappler on Saturday.
ISIS' statement on the supposed deaths, made on Thursday, January 25, was the first statement it had issued in relation to local terrorists since November 2017.

ISIS posted online that its East Asia Province fighters clashed with government troops.

“Let the worshippers of the Cross and their helpers everywhere know that the Islamic State continues to break their torn and smash their crosses and idols, and Allah is the granters of success and He is the helper,” the statement said as translated by SITE.

Earlier, Brawner said that based on their intelligence, there are less than 50 fighters left with the former Maute-ISIS group now called Dawlah Islamiyah-Lanao.

Dawlah Islamiyah-Lanao is claimed by ISIS as its East Asia Province.


The military earlier reported that government troops captured 3 Maute-ISIS fighters late Friday, January 25, as troopers continued their assault on the remnants of the local terror group.

Maute-ISIS fighters are now known as Dawlah Islamiyah-Lanao.

Abdillah Bationg, Kalid Hadjinur, and Casanur Hadjinur were arrested following a tip given to soldiers from the 8th Light Armor Cavalry and the 10th Scout Ranger Company.

In a debriefing, one of the suspects told the military that they parted ways with their companions after they were unable to withstand the assault.

The military, with the aid of electronic intelligence from the United States drone program providing information on "focus areas," launched an assault against the militants under the leadership of Abu Dar.

Abu Dar escaped the Marawi siege in the early weeks of June 2017, when ISIS terrorists tried to establish a caliphate in Marawi City. The siege lasted 6 months with the killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute on October 16, 2017. The military declared the end of combat operations in November 2017.

The suspected militants told the military that they had been flanked by government troopers when they decided to withdraw.

“Our leaders are nowhere to be found so we made a run for it,” the suspects told the mlitary.

'No other option'

Brawner earlier said there would be no let-up in the military operation to rid Lanao del Sur of Maute-ISIS remnants.

“We will take them out of their comfort zones until they have no other option but to die or return to the folds of the law,” Brawner said in a statement.

Brawner said that the communities and local chief executives were key players in gathering intelligence information necessary to sustain the combat operations.

“It is now the Meranaos and soldiers against the Maute-IS remnants. We are a formidable force to be reckoned with,” he said.

Brawner acknowledged assistance from local chief executives for providing “almost real time” information on the location of the terrorists.

“With the amount of support we are receiving from the populace, we are well on our way liberate Lanao del Sur from these terror groups,” Brawner added.

Troops overrun Maute camp in Lanao Sur; 3 dead, 3 arrested

From MindaNews (Jan 26, 2019): Troops overrun Maute camp in Lanao Sur; 3 dead, 3 arrested

Government troops on Friday overran an encampment of the Islamic State-Maute Group after a day of fighting that left three Army soldiers wounded in Lanao del Sur, three enemies killed and three others arrested.

Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., commanding officer of the Army 103rdBrigade said the troops found three dead bodies of Maute-IS members when they seized the camp in the hinterland barangay Sumalindao in Sultan Dumalundong town in Lanao del Sur Friday morning.

Camp of Maute-IS seized by troops from the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Sultan Dumalundong, Lanao del Sur on Friday, 25 January 2019. Photo courtesy of 103rd IB

Troops also arrested three Maute-IS fighters late Friday, January 25.

The rest of the rebels including their leader Owaida Benito Marohombsar alias Abu Dar, managed to escape before the troops came in.

Abu Dar is the leader of Dawlah Islamiyah, remnants of the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group that attacked Marawi City in 2017.

He is said to have been appointed as emir of all ISIS factions in southern Philippines replacing Isnilon Hapilon who was slain in Marawi City, along with Omar Maute on October 16, 2017. A day after they were killed, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi “liberated” from the terrorist influence.

Brawner said they launched a brigade-size operation involving two Army battalions after they located the camp whose location was revealed by Maute surrenderers.

Several 105 howitzers and a pair of MG 250 gunships bombarded the camp before troops of the 55th Infantry Battalion led the final assault.

Wanted Sayyaf, hawak ngayon ng pulisya sa Zambo

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 26, 2019): Wanted Sayyaf, hawak ngayon ng pulisya sa Zambo

Inaalam ngayon ng pulisya kung may plano ba ang Abu Sayyaf na maghasik ng lagim o dumukot sa Zamboanga City matapos na madakip ang isang miyembro nito na sabit diumano sa mga kasong kidnapping sa kalapit na Basilan province.

Hindi pa naglalabas ng resulta ng imbestigasyon ang pulisya dahil patuloy pa ang imbestigasyon kay Daud Isnani, 33, na nadakip sa Barangay Talon-Talon ng mga operatiba ng Regional Anti-Criminality Task Group ng Regional Intelligence Division 9 ng pulisya.

Galing umano sa Basilan si Isnani at hinihinalang sa coastal area ito lumusot upang makapasok sa naturang barangay. Nabatid may mga warrants of arrest laban kay Isnani mula Isabela City sa Basilan, ilang milya lamang ang layo mula dito.

Kinumpirma naman ni Chief Superintendent Emmanuel Luis Licup, ang regional police commander, na hawak nga nila ang suspek. May 7 kaso ng kidnappings si Isnani, ayon pa sa opisyal.

“Daud Isnani y Baluan was arrested by virtue of the warrant of arrest for the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention issued by 9th RTC Branch 1 in Isabela City on January 28, 2008 with no bail bond recommended,” ani Licup.

Pinuri naman ni Mayor Beng Climaco ang mga parak at sa pagkakadakip sa suspek. “Our authorities are always on alert and so is the community members and we shall not allow lawless elements in our city,” sabi pa ni Climaco.

Army, MILF, local officials help end NoCot family feud

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26, 2019): Army, MILF, local officials help end NoCot family feud

A long-standing family feud involving two Moro clans in North Cotabato ended Friday with the help of the military, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the local governments of Pikit and Aleosan towns.

The family feud, more known in the locality as “rido”, erupted in recent months as the rival families fought for control over vast tracks of land in the borders of Pikit and Aleosan, both in North Cotabato.

Locked in the clan war are the families of Kunstantino Wakan, a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU)
and Wahid Mangelen of the MILF 105th base command.

“They all signed a document stating that they will no longer resort to armed confrontation but will work side-by-side for the sake of their children,” Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan said after the peace covenant signing on Friday at a farm, he owned in Barangay Nalapaan.

“We are glad for the participation of other stakeholders, the Army, the MILF, and the warring families,” he added in the vernacular.

The clan war had claimed several lives from both sides, officials said.

2 NPAs dead in Surigao Norte clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26, 2019): 2 NPAs dead in Surigao Norte clash

REBEL CASUALTIES. The remains of the two New People's Army rebels recovered following the predawn clash with government forces in Bacuag, Surigao del Norte, on Friday (January 25). (Photo courtesy of the Bacuag Municipal Police Station)

SURIGAO CITY — Two New People's Army (NPA) combatants were found dead following a predawn clash with government forces in the Surigao del Norte town of Bacuag on Friday (Jan. 25).

Lt. Ken Enciso, civil-military officer of the Army's 30th Infantry Battalion, said the firefight ensued at around 4 a.m. after the troops encountered about 30 rebels while conducting security operations in Sitio Little Baguio, Barangay Payapag.

Enciso said the troops scoured the area after a resident reported the presence
NPA rebels belonging to the Guerilla Front 16.

After the clash that lasted for over an hour, Enciso said the troops recovered the bodies of two NPA members--a male and a female in their 20s.

"More of them are believed to be wounded in the clash as blood stains were visible in the withdrawal route," Enciso said.

The bodies were turned over to village officials and police personnel for proper disposition and identification, the Army official said.

Lt. Col. Allen Raymund Tomas, 30IB commander, extended the Army's "deepest sympathies to the families of the dead NPA terrorists."

"It is tragic that up to this moment, there are still people who are blinded by the failed ideology of these terrorists," Tomas added.

Enciso said the troops also seized an NPA lair that can accommodate 50 people and recovered high-power firearms, ammunition, a landmine and other bomb-making materials, as well as medicines and subversive documents.

Maj. General Ronald Villanueva, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said the troops "have never stopped going after the NPA terrorists in our area of responsibility."

"We have not declared any suspension of operations even during last holiday season, we are determined to end the deception and terrorism brought by CPP–NPA-NDF in the communities," Villanueva said, referring to the NPA's mother organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and its political wing, the National Democratic Front.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Villanueva called on the rebels "go back to the folds of the law and return to the mainstream society. They can still avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Integration Program (ECLIP) being offered by the government.”