WAR MATERIEL. Some of the firearms, bomb-making components, ammunition, (left) and personal belongings (right) of three slain New People’s Army (NPA) rebels seized by the military in Barangay Baluan, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat province on Saturday (July 30, 2022). One of those killed was NPA leader Ian Dela Rama, head of the regional operations command of the Far South Mindanao Region. (Photo courtesy of 6ID)

COTABATO CITY – The military here has intensified operations against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Sultan Kudarat province following a clash that killed an NPA leader and two of his aides over the weekend.

In a statement Monday, Maj. Gen. Roberto Capulong, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, identified the slain NPA leader as Ian Dela Rama, head of the regional operations command of the rebels' Far South Mindanao Region.

Dela Rama was also a former secretary of the NPA Front 4A, North Central Mindanao Regional Committee, from May 2018 to May 2019.

He also had an existing warrant of arrest for arson filed at the Regional Trial Court Branch 3 in Butuan City.

Dela Rama's two slain aides, identified as Valerio Lacumbo and Wilmer Dela Cruz, were both operating in the mountainous borders of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato before their deaths.

“The three were killed in a running gun battle at the peripheries of Barangay Baluan, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, on Saturday afternoon,” Capulong said.

Recovered from the rebels were two M16 rifles, a Garand rifle, two .45-caliber pistols, a hand grenade, firearm clips, ammunition, PHP3,000 cash, bomb-making components, and mobile phones, among others.

Capulong reminded troops of possible retaliatory attacks from the NPA to avenge the death of their three comrades.

He assured the public though that the Army will continue pursuing those who continue to fight the government.

“The 6th ID will always adhere to the tasks mandated to us, that is, to protect the people and secure the communities, especially in the area of Sultan Kudarat, to free them from insurgency brought by these rebels,” he said.

Capulong condoled with the families of slain NPA rebels, even as he called on other insurgents to surrender and return to their respective families while they still can.

“Our government troops do not rejoice in killing fellow Filipinos as we also feel bad if a rebel dies in encounters due to a lost cause. Lay down your arms and come back to the folds of the law to avoid circumstances like this,” he said.

Since January this year, nine NPA rebels have been killed while 94 have surrendered peacefully.

A total of 68 firearms, 16 grenades, and five anti-personnel mines were surrendered and recovered in the same period.

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

The Anti-Terrorism Council also formally designated the National Democratic Front 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)