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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 6:03 p.m.) Ifugao Representative Teodoro Baguilat Jr. on Thursday condemned the “treacherous and unprovoked” New People’s Army ambush in Tinoc town that killed 11 soldiers and a civilian Wednesday.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has formed a board of inquiry to look into the circumstances surrounding the ambush even as two Army companies were deployed to hunt down the attackers.
The AFP Human Rights Office is also looking into possible violations by the NPA of international humanitarian laws and of a human rights agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front, which represents communist rebels in peace negotiations.
Guerrillas staged the ambush on a three-vehicle convoy of the 86th Infantry Battalion that was ferrying troops back to headquarters in Kiangan town after turning over their post in Tinoc to a replacement unit.
“I strongly condemn the treacherous and unprovoked attack by elements of the National Democratic Front-New Peoples Army ... As a brother of someone who died in the line of duty, I commiserate with and send my condolences to the 86th Infantry Battalion and the families of our brave soldiers who died in that devious attack,” Baguilat said.
“The treachery is magnified by the fact that nowhere in the world is an attack against civilians recognized as a legitimate military strike. The attack only emphasizes that the NPA’s conflict against the government has lost its essence and reason,” he added.
Baguilat, former governor of the province, called the 86th IB a “well-loved” unit in Ifugao that helps keep the peace.
“This same group of selfless servants had helped us in relief operations during our times of crisis,” he added.
The soldiers who died in the attack were battalion operations officer Captain Siegfred B. Kafilas, Staff Sgt. Domingo G. Torres, Corporal Esmael M. Lazaro, Private First Class Jojo B. Dawaton, Private First Class Kennedy P. Ragutero, Private First Class Crismar M. David, Private First Class Villamor E. Sannadan Jr., Private June D. Villoria, Private Ronel L. Salud, Private Ronald Q. Lorenzo, and Private Ferdinand A. Nalliw.
The civilian fatality was Imee Labog, the wife of a soldier.
Two other soldiers and a civilian were wounded.
AFP spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Burgos said the board of inquiry will be headed by Colonel Reynaldo Labayen.
However, Burgos stressed that the focus of the AFP leadership at the moment is to get the rebels who staged the ambush.
Burgos said the battalion’s Alpha and Charlie companies were pursuing the rebels.
"The concentration right now is pursuit and making sure that the area is safe and secure," Burgos told reporters.
“We believed the NPA has violated Republic Act 9851, International Humanitarian Law and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” AFP-HRO chief Col. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said.
Tutaan claimed the rebels violated international laws against harming wounded foes, citing reports that the guerrillas continued firing on injured soldiers unable to fight back.
Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Batara, who survived the ambush, said all the casualties were in the lead vehicle of the convoy, which turned turtle when its driver was killed in the first volley.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our soldiers who were there to provide a safe and secure environment for our people," said Burgos.
Burgos appealed to the rebels for sincerity in talking peace and to urge their armed units to stop their attacks.
"Sincerity should be exemplified not just by the top leadership but also translated to the smallest units as well," Burgos said.
Batara said the families of the ambush victims are preparing murder charges against the rebels led by Casimiro Binayaon alias Peter and Igam.