One soldier and 15 communists were injured during an hour-and-a-half clash on Thursday, after patrolling soldiers discovered an encampment of the communist New People's Army (NPA) in a remote village in Ilocos Norte, northern Luzon, a belated military report said.
Corporal Elinor Tuwag was wounded when his company, under 2nd Lieutenant Haydion Abiera, clashed with 20 NPA members, including three women guerrillas, said Brigadier General Rodolfo Alvarado, commanding general of the Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division.
The NPA members fled with an estimated 15 wounded comrades towards northern Abra province.
"I believe we have inflicted four casualties on the enemy side, but we have not recovered their bodies," Brig. Gen. Alvarado stated.
The NPA members, identified as Zone-2, were the armed components of the Ilocos-Cordillera division of the 33-year-old Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
The clash began when members of the 50th Infantry Battalion under Lt Col Roberto Almadin encountered the NPA near Nueva Era town in Ilocos Norte province, said Brig. Gen. Alvarado.
As they pursued the communist rebels, the soldiers overran three bamboo bunkers in village Barangobong, Nueva Era town.
The soldiers found more bunkers that were under construction in a nearby area, Brig. Gen. Alvarado added.
They also found an M-16 Armalite assault rifle at the scene of the clash, apart from medical equipment, subversive reading material and "intelligence" documents from the bunkers.
"I have told the soldiers not to 'disengage'," Brig. Gen. Alvarado noted. He added that this would affect the movement of the communists.
It was the first armed encounter between government troops and the NPA in recent years.
In June last year, soldiers also overran a large NPA camp in Baluarte, Salcedo town, Ilocos Sur, seizing six fire-arms, ammunition, documents, CD-ROMs, computer diskettes, photographs, books, reading material, medical equipment and personal belongings.
Our Manila Bureau Chief adds: Defence Chief Angelo Reyes expressed alarm over the seven per cent increase in the number of communist guerillas in northern Luzon.
Sources said the government will soon increase the number of paramilitary assistants in the rural areas.
In the early 1990s, the military and the police said they had crushed the back-bone of the CPP-NPA in Ilocos Norte.
The military has re-activated the Civilian Armed Auxiliary (CAA) companies to beef up the northern Luzon command, following a complaint from Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia of the northern Luzon command that the communist rebels have been recruiting freely in the areas where government troops were absent.
The government had long de-activated the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) because of complaints of human rights violations.
CAFGU had assisted the military in counter-insurgency operations in the rural areas. The NPA has 11,000 armed members nationwide.
The CPP has been engaged in an armed struggle for 33 years, for the establishment of a Maoist-type of communism in the country.
Last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo revived the peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) as soon as she came to power.
In 1998, former president Joseph Estrada shelved the talks, which were initiated by former President Fidel Ramos in 1992.