Three New People’s Army (NPA) members, including a former leader of a militant transport group, were killed in a clash with government troops in Donsol, Sorsogon, early Tuesday, military spokesmen said.

Colonel Generoso Bolina, Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command spokesman, said one of of those killed has been identified as Joel Ascutia, a resident of Legazpi City who served as spokesman of the group Condor-Piston Bicol in 2010.

The clash erupted 5:41 a.m., while members of the 31st Infantry Battalion’s Bravo Company were patrolling in Brgy. Pinaminaan.

About 10 to 15 rebels opened fire at the troops who were approaching their position, prompting the soldiers to retaliate. A second firefight ensued around 9 a.m., Bolina said.

Major Angelo Guzman, Army 9th Infantry Division spokesman, said the troops eventually overran an encampment, which served as a “staging area” for the rebels’ “extortion activities.”

Aside from the slain rebels’ bodies, troops also recovered from the camp an M16 rifle, caliber-.9mm pistol, and subversive documents, he said, adding there was no casualty on the government side.

Guzman admitted receiving reports that Ascutia was killed in the clash, but could not say why the former transport group leader was in the area.

“We are still checking if it was really him (Ascutia) and why he was there,” he said.

Troops were sent to Brgy. Pinaminaan after the military received information that NPA members were conducting “extortion activities” there, according to the regional military spokesman.

The NPA’s Celso Minguez Command, in a statement emailed Tuesday night, confirmed that Ascutia was among those killed.

Ascutia, known in the rebel group as “Ka Pepe,” had been a member of Condor-Piston since 2005 until he decided to become a “full-time” member of the NPA, according to the statement.

Ascutia served as president of Condor-Piston Bicol in 2009. In July that year, he survived a gun attack in Daraga while the group was preparing to join other organizations in a nationwide transport strike.

Meanwhile, the NPA identified the other fatalities in the clash as Christian Llagas, 19, alias “Ka Richard” and Leopoldo Nebres, 43, alias “Ka Jig,” both former farmers and residents of Jovellar. (John Roson)

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