MANILA (AFP) – Communist insurgents Saturday promised revenge after Philippine soldiers killed their regional spokesmen along with seven other rebels in the latest operation against the militants since talks to end one of Asia's longest running insurgencies collapsed.
The Communist Party of the Philippines confirmed that one of the eight rebels killed in the clash in the eastern province of Sorsogon on Thursday was Greg Banares, guerrilla spokesman for the rebel-infested Bicol peninsula.
Along with Banares, whose real name was given as Frankie Joe Soriano, other members of his information group and their security detail were killed in the incident, the rebels said in a statement sent to news agencies.
"The CPP and all revolutionary forces vow to exact justice and punish the perpetrators of this massacre. It calls on all units of the NPA (New People's Army) to carry out more tactical offensives... in Sorsogon and the Bicol region," it added.
The New People's Army is the CPP's guerilla wing.
The military previously said the eight were killed when villagers, tired of guerrilla threats, tipped off the soldiers to the presence of the rebels.
The CPP statement however said that Banares and two of his aides were killed after being captured unarmed.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala denied the allegation, calling it an attempt to discredit the government forces.
"They were all armed and they fought back. There was a 35 minute exchange of fire," he said.
While the military would have preferred capturing Banares, his death would still be a blow to the guerrillas whose ranks have fallen to about 4,000 fighters, down from a peak of roughly 26,000 in the 1980s, Zagala said.
"He was influential in their propaganda. He was a key in their recruitment of those with legitimate problems into the war of the CPP against the government."
Banares had been one of the more visible guerrilla figures, frequently issuing statements and even posting on YouTube.
The CPP and the NPA, have been fighting successive governments for 44 years in a rebellion that has claimed at least 30,000 lives.
President Benigno Aquino hoped to end the rebellion before his six-year term expires in 2016, but the government said in April that peace talks had collapsed due to rebel demands such as for the release of captured comrades.
In recent months, the communist rebels have launched more assaults, often targeting unarmed soldiers, police and civilians.