By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Two Philippine soldiers were killed Friday by suspected communists insurgents in troubled southern Davao Oriental provinces, seemingly ignoring peace overtures made by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, commanding officer of the 28th Infantry Battalion, said the soldiers were riding a motorcycle when they were ambushed by suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Lupon town in the morning.
“They were not there for combat mission. What we see here is an act of treachery of attacking unarmed and in civilian clothes personnel,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted him as saying.
“These are members of peace and development outreach program teams who are just there trying to build a community,” he added.
Zagala underlined that murder charges would be filed against the perpetrators.
“We won’t let this pass. We will continue our operations against them,” he said.
The ambush comes after four suspects believed to be high-ranking NPA members were arrested Thursday in Agusan del Norte province, also located in southern Mindanao island.
News broadcaster GMA reported that the four rebels were captured in a joint police and military operation on a targeted “NPA safe-house”, where government forces said they recovered assorted firearms, ammunition, explosives and “subversive documents”.
The four suspects are facing multiple charges including frustrated murder, robbery, attempted murder, frustrated homicide, homicide and violation of a gun ban imposed by the country’s electoral body for the May polls -- which Duterte won by a landslide.
After his victory, Duterte made overtures toward the Communist Party of the Philippines -- of which the NPA is the armed wing -- and its political front, the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Preliminary talks between the NDF and the incoming Philippines administration have been scheduled in Oslo, Norway for next week, and incoming peace process advisers Jesus Dureza left the archipelago for Europe on Friday.
"We look forward to a fruitful meeting under the auspices of the Norwegian government in the sidelines of the 'Oslo Forum'," local media quoted Dureza saying in a statement.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which -- according to the military -- has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.
Duterte is set to assume office June 30.