March 5, 2024

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A landmine blast by suspected communist fighters wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the first known insurgent attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office last week.

Regional Army Commander Major General Edgardo de Leon said the army was checking reports from villagers about anti-personnel mines planted by NPA rebels along a village road in Mabanas town in northern Samar province when an explosion injured the seven soldiers.

Two of the injured soldiers are in critical condition, he said, adding that none of the villagers were injured.

“Some of the soldiers were thrown away because the rebels were using really powerful landmines,” de Leon said.

De Leon told reporters that the government would file criminal complaints against rebel leaders over the attack and the use of internationally banned landmines.

He said that the soldiers were unable to shoot the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being chased by government forces.

On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after his landslide victory in the May 9 elections, government forces attacked eight communist rebels, killing one in a brief gun battle in the central eastern province of Negros, the military said on Friday.

Marcus Jr. must contend with decades of communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with long-running territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.

During the campaign, he said he would continue peace talks with the communist rebels and expressed support for a government task force set up under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.

The task force has been criticized for linking many left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents described as an unfounded “red flagging” aimed at stifling legitimate opposition.

Despite battle setbacks, infighting, and divisions, the communist insurgency continued to erupt, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.

The new president is the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was notorious for killing, torturing and disappearing suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.

Marcos the Elder was overthrown in 1986 with the support of a military pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into exile in the United States.

After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they made a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family’s image on social media, critics say.

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