Soldiers clashed with New People’s Army (NPA) members and the rebels attacked a jail in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, on Thursday, just hours before the government announced a holiday ceasefire.

Colonel Leopoldo Galon, Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command spokesman, said members of the 75th Infantry Battalion figured in a 40-minute gunbattle with an undetermined number of rebels in Brgy San Pedro from 7:40 a.m.

No casualties were reported on both the government and rebel side, but troops recovered an M16 rifle at the encounter site, Galon said.

Around 8:40 a.m., about 11 rebels attacked the “Lianga annex” of the Surigao del Sur District Jail, disarming jailguards of high-powered firearms, police said.

The rebels, clad in camouflage uniforms, arrived on a Hyundai van (LYG-248) and pretended to visit an inmate but suddenly held the jailguards at gunpoint and disarmed them “without any resistance,” Caraga regional police spokesman Supt. Martin Gamba said.

The rebels took an AK-47 rifle, shotgun; two caliber-.38 revolvers, and a caliber-.9mm pistol before locking up the jail guards and their “trustees” and fleeing, Gamba said.

Local policemen found the rebels’ vehicle abandoned at Km. 4, Brgy. San Pedro, 10 a.m.

Around 11 a.m., President Benigno Aquino III announced in Malacanang that the military and police will suspend “offensive operations” against the NPA from December 16 to January 2.

The 18-day suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) will only cover “deliberate” operations against the NPA, Department of National Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said in a briefing in Camp Aguinaldo.

Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, Armed Forces spokesman, said the military will continue road checkpoints, patrols, and law enforcement operations to defend vital installations against possible attacks by the NPA during the holiday ceasefire.

Law enforcement operations, done with police on the lead, include pursuit of NPA members who have just carried out an attack and arrest of rebels who have criminal cases, Burgos said.

Marissa Dumanjug-Palo, head of secretariat of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the organization supervising the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the NDF leadership has yet to issue a decision whether it will reciprocate the government ceasefire.

“An announcement may be made on December 17 or 18,” she said. (John Roson)

– end –