PURSUIT. A Black Hawk helicopter sent to the mountains of San Jorge, Samar on July 12 to pick up cadavers of three dead New People's Army members killed in pursuit operations. The Philippine Army has been stepping up its fight against the communist terrorist group in the mountains of Northern Samar. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Philippine Army (PA) is stepping up its fight against the communist movement in the mountains of Northern Samar as they hunt culprits behind the recent detonation of anti-personnel mines.

The recovery of three bodies of members of the New People’s Army (NPA) last week was a result of the use of air assets in their pursuit operations, said Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division.

The three unidentified terrorists - two males and a female - were killed during the government troops' pursuit operation near the borders of Northern Samar and Samar provinces.

The military launched pursuit operations following the detonation of banned explosives by NPA that injured seven soldiers on July 5 in Magsasay village, Mapanas, Northern Samar.

“We sent additional troops and air assets to Northern Samar to track down the NPA bombers. Expect armed encounters in the mountains since rebels couldn’t hide in communities anymore. They are rejected by villagers of Northern Samar,” de Leon said in a statement on Monday.

De Leon said the military used drones to track down the terrorists leading them to some NPA lairs until an encounter occurred in the upland area of San Jorge, Samar on July 8. Another encounter happened in the forest of San Jorge town on July 13.

The troops of the 801st Infantry Brigade captured from the encounter site three M16 rifles, an AK47, and a shotgun. Also seized were anti-personnel mines, election campaign materials, and notes seized beside the dead NPAs.

PA 8th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Ryan Layug said the dead NPA members belonged to Platoon Yakal of the NPA sub-regional committee browser, which the troops had been tracking from Northern Samar moving to Samar province.

Soldiers recovered the cadavers on July 12 in the mountains of San Jorge, Samar.

“Due to the difficulties in the terrain and the poor weather conditions, the cadavers were already in the stage of decomposition when airlifted and brought to the police for examination by the Scene of the Crime Operatives. The cadavers were then buried as advised by the local health office,” Layug added.

Earlier, the military deployed more troops to some towns in Northern Samar following the recent detonation of anti-personnel land mines. The presence of this additional battalion in the towns of Palapag, Mapanas, Gamay, and Lapinig forced the NPA fighters to run to the border of Samar province

The unit was also instrumental in dismantling the NPA sub-regional committee 5 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

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

Exercise caution

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) cautioned commanders to exercise extreme caution when carrying out operations, particularly in communist hotbeds.

"The CTG (communist terrorist group) has a long history of treacherous attacks against government troops, including the PNP. We must take extra precautions to protect our personnel, especially when they visit remote areas," PNP director for operations, Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon said in a statement.

Aside from targeting security officers on humanitarian missions, de Leon said communist rebels often lure government forces by fraudulently reporting a crime in an area and then attacking responding police officers along the route.

Last July 16, around 10 NPA members opened fire on police officers during a humanitarian activity at the boundary of Barangay San Nicolas in San Jose de Buan town and Barangay Mabuhay in Gandara town in Samar.

A rookie police officer, Pat. Mark Monge, died in the ensuing encounter. (with Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)