GOOD START. The Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division Commander Ernesto Torres fetes the recent breakthrough of the military following the death of high-ranking New People's Army (NPA) leader Menandro Villanueva during a press briefing in Davao City on Friday (Jan. 7, 2022). In his message, Torres encouraged other active NPA members to surrender and accept the programs prepared by the government for them. (Screengrab)

DAVAO CITY – President Rodrigo R. Duterte gave an additional PHP2 million reward to the individuals behind the neutralization of high-ranking New People's Army (NPA) leader Menandro Villanueva alias “Bok”.

The amount was on top of the PHP5.6-million bounty on his head offered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division Commander Ernesto Torres, in a press briefing on Friday, said the money was divided among the people who contributed to the recent breakthrough of the AFP.

“We had a civilian informant who messaged us on his whereabouts and it turned out positive. In the past, many information were forwarded to us regarding Villanueva’s location but they turned out to be mistaken identity. Kung sino yung mga nakapag-contribute para makita si Villanueva, sila po ang makakatanggap ng inilaang pondo para sa kanyang ulo (Those whose efforts resulted in his capture and neutralization will share the bounty for his head),” Torres said.

He said they had a difficult time hunting down the slain NPA terrorist, who was among their most wanted, because they did not have any photo of him that they could show to the public.

“Even with the advent of digital media, we had trouble asking the general public for help because no one has his photo. He did not have any, unlike the other notorious NPA terrorists. What we have was a cartographic sketch from the accounts of our men who have encountered him in battle,” Torres added.

In the same press briefing, Lt. Gen. Greg Almerol, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), mentioned that Villanueva’s death left a huge void within the NPA and was a major blow to the organization.

“It will take the CTG (communist terrorist group) some time to replace a seasoned leader as Villanueva. As a result of this, we expect more communist terrorists to either yield to the troops or continue to suffer defeats under an inexperienced leader in the coming days,” Almerol said.

"With this milestone, I am forever grateful to each and every one of you for helping your Armed Forces in our quest to a just and lasting peace here in (the) Eastern Mindanao Command."

Villanueva, identified as the longest-serving and most wanted NPA leader in Mindanao, was killed in a clash with government troops in Barangay Libudon.

He held key positions in the NPA in Mindanao and was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

He was among the founding members of the NPA along with Edgar Jopson in the 1970s and was associated with the NPA as a student at the Philippine Science High School where he became an activist under the Kabataang Makabayan (KM).

Throughout his 51 years with the communist group, he has been wanted for multiple murder, double frustrated murder, arson, robbery with intimidation, and rebellion, among others.

In a report, the Eastmincom said it has already neutralized 17 top NPA terrorists and tallied 545 surrenders since the first quarter of 2021.

The CPP-NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)