By Ben Cal
MANILA, Dec. 17 (PNA) -– “Silence the guns!”
This was the urgent call by the Waging Peace Philippines (WPP), a non-governmental organization peace advocate, to the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF), to reciprocate the 18-day unilateral ceasefire declared by President Benigno S. Aquino III during the Christmas holiday to give the soldiers time to celebrate the Yuletide season.
“Waging Peace Philippines again appeals to the CPP-NPA-NDF to declare a Christmas ceasefire, beginning with this period of Simbang Gabi, or tradition of dawn masses with which Filipino Catholics mark Christmas,” said WPP spokesperson Anica Reyes in an e-mail to the Philippines News Agency Saturday.
“We are deeply saddened by news that five government soldiers have been killed, and two wounded, in an attack allegedly by NPA forces at 5 o’clock this morning (Dec. 16) while the soldiers were stationed at Barangay Mabuhay, Tandag City, Surigao de Sur,” Ms. Reyes added.
“We had been elated by the 18-day Christmas ceasefire that had been unilaterally declared by government, hoping that this would give respite and security especially to communities affected by conflict,” she said.
“We had hoped that a suspension of military offensives by both parties would provide a good atmosphere, as we also called for the resumption of peace negotiations between the GRP and NDF by the first quarter of 2012. We had also urged the government for the humanitarian release of political prisoners, particularly persons relevant to the peace processes,” she added.
The Surigao del Sur attack came just hours after President Aquino declared a suspension of military operations (SOMO) during the Christmas holiday lasting for 18 days from December 16, 2011 to January 2, 2012.
The troopers from 36th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army were conducting peace and development mission in Tandag City when they were attacked by NPA rebels.
“Though literally outnumbered, the soldiers fought courageously and valiantly to repel the rebels and held on to their position for as long as they can but were eventually overrun,” according to Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City in a text message to reporters.
The rebels carted away one K3 squad automatic weapon, one M203, four M16 rifles, five M14 rifles, one Harris handheld radio, and one Harris man-packed radio.
The names of the soldiers killed and wounded in action were temporarily withheld pending the notification of their next of kin.
Maj. Gen. Victor Felix, 4th ID commanding general, has ordered a hot pursuit operation against the rebels.
While there is an existing SOMO, government troops can defend themselves when attacked and conduct hot pursuit of the enemy.