CATBALOGAN CITY, Philippines, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- The New People's Army has engaged in a new skirmish with the Philippine army.
The NPA firefight came a few days after the Filipino armed forces declared 12 towns and a city in Eastern Samar cleared of insurgents.
Capt. Gene Orense, chief of the 8ID Public Affairs Office, said the skirmish occurred when Filipino army units on Friday stumbled upon a NPA camp in Barangay Rizal in Basey Samar, starting a clash which lasted nearly an hour.
Neither side reported casualties in the encounter, Manila Channel news website reported. The Filipino military reportedly recovered arms and munitions from the site of the encounter.
The skirmish follows on a similar fight Jan. 28, when a Bayanihan Team of the Filipino army's 87th Infantry Battalion exchanged fire with an estimated 20 NPA guerrillas near Barangay Baes, about 12 miles from Motiong, Samar.
The encounters followed an announcement on Tuesday by the armed forces of the Philippines and local government officials that the area was pacified. Filipino army Capt. Gene Orense, the provincial military spokesman, said this meant that the areas are ready for development projects and investments, with the military transferring pacification efforts to local officials.
The areas in Eastern Samar declared insurgency-free by the military included the towns of Balangiga, Quinapondan, Taft, Maydolong, Balangkayan, Hernani, San Julian, San Policarpo and Sulat along with Salcedo, Guiuan, Mercedes and Borongan City and Balangiga, which were now "manageable conflict-affected and ready for development."
These regions included earlier regions declared quiescent by the AFP, including Ifugao, Aklan, Apayao, Kalinga, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Biliran, Cebu, Bohol, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, South Cotabato, La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Cavite, Marinduque, Romblon, Guimaras, Siquijor and northern and southern Leyte provinces.
The AFP definition of "insurgency-free" is determined on whether insurgent strength is insufficient to affect a jurisdiction's residents and their activities, after which security operations to maintain peace and order devolves from the military to local officials.
AFP said the NPA's number of guerrillas has shrunk to 4,000 from a peak of 24,000 in the mid-1980s. The Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front disputed the reports of the military, however, citing the encounters and ambushes to back up their claim.
The increase in violence comes in the wake of a December 2012 six-day cease-fire declared by the CPP-NPA-NDF, during which the AFP stated that the military would neverthelessl conduct security patrols during the holidays. At the time, spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said military security patrols wouldn't violate the suspension of military offensives being observed by both the AFP and the NPA, as the patrols were strictly defensive.
During the cease-fire, in its New Year 2013 message, the Filipino Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said that the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF communist rebels have been "most challenging" in 2012 since they began two decades ago. Manila nevertheless remains hopeful that some kind of accord might be reached.