SLAIN. Residents of San Francisco village in Las Navas, Northern Samar lined up in this May 12 photo to honor a soldier killed in an event in their village. About 400 residents in Las Navas, Northern Samar joined a condemnation rally on Thursday (May 19, 2022) triggered by last week's fatal shooting of the team leader of the Community Support Program in the area. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

TACLOBAN CITY – About 400 residents in Las Navas, Northern Samar joined a condemnation rally on Thursday triggered by the fatal shooting of a soldier, who was the team leader of the community support program (CSP) of the military in the area.

Residents from different villages trooped to the town plaza, carrying placards as they condemned the communist terrorist group for attacking government forces deployed to facilitate development in poor communities.

“This is initiated by locals of Las Navas. Prior to this, there were rallies in their communities since the shooting of one of our soldiers. Some of them walked to the town center to join the peace rally today,” Lt. Col. Joemar Buban, commander of the Philippine Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion, said in a phone interview.

The protests were triggered by the death of Sgt. Marlon Baysa, who was fatally shot in front of the residents of San Francisco village in Las Navas town on the night of May 11.

A bullet hit the back of Baysa’s head, resulting in his instantaneous death. He was the designated team leader of the CSP group deployed in the remote village infiltrated by the NPA.

The community invited the CSP team members to join the Flores de Mayo celebration, a popular religious festival in the country every month of May.

CSP is a flagship program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear communities of NPA infestation and involves immersion of personnel in the identified barangays and the conduct of various community engagements geared towards addressing the needs of the people.

The attack is believed to be a retaliation since most of the NPA’s underground mass organization members in the area have voluntarily surrendered, according to the official.

NPA fighters have been frequently sighted in Las Navas town in recent years.

Rebels have been attempting to infiltrate some communities due to their vast natural resources.

The 4th class town has a population of over 36,000 in 53 villages.

“Some farmlands in Las Navas have been the funding sources of the NPA’s central committee to support their armed struggle,” Buban added.

Northern Samar is considered the hotbed of the communist terrorist group due to its thick forest and poor road networks.

The high incidence of poverty makes people in upland communities vulnerable to the persuasion of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The Anti-Terrorism Council also formally designated the NDF as a terrorist organization on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and inseparable part” of the CPP-NPA that was created in April 1973. (PNA)