CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Communist guerrillas abducted two soldiers and at least a dozen militiamen and seized several rifles in an attack Wednesday on an army base in the southern Philippines, officials said, in the latest flare-up of an insurgency that has raged for nearly half a century.
Military Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. and police officials said government forces were trying to track down about 80 New People's Army rebels who took the hostages in a pre-dawn attack on an army patrol base near Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur province, a hotbed of the insurgency.
Troops are checking whether some of the militiamen who were reported to have been seized managed to escape and hide, Madrigal said.
The guerrillas seized more than 20 assault rifles and two-way radio equipment apparently without firing a shot, officials said.
"That's the report we got, there's no firefight," said regional military commander Maj. Gen. Ronald Villanueva, suggesting the troops were overwhelmed.
The Marxist guerrillas will mark the 50th anniversary of their Communist Party of the Philippines on Dec. 26. In the past, they have marked revolutionary milestones by waging attacks, military officials said.
The latest attack will likely further enrage Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has scrapped Norway-brokered peace talks with the rebels to protest continuing insurgent attacks on government forces, agricultural plantations and mining firms.
Due to the violence perpetrated by the rebels, "I don't think it's a good idea to push through with the peace talks," Duterte said in a speech late Tuesday. "I do not consider them revolutionary. They are just plain bandits and that is the way we should treat them."
Known for his public outbursts, the volatile president warned he would stop accepting rebels who surrender due to continuing guerrilla violence.
"If the time comes that I get fed up with this, I will no longer accept those who will surrender," Duterte said. "No more surrenders because you are a cruel and brutal people."
Duterte said he was considering a plan to contain tribesmen in the hinterlands in a guarded area to keep them out of the insurgents' reach. The military has said the rebels have harnessed some villagers in tribal communities to fight government forces, although human rights groups have raised an alarm on the alleged military abuses of tribal communities.
"I will hamlet them," Duterte said. "You natives won't be able to say that you're being imprisoned. But I will make a secure place for you that will be your territory for the meantime. I will be the one to decide whether you'll be given arms. No one else will be able to enter. You will be the ones who will guard it."
The rebellion has raged in the Philippines' impoverished countryside since 1969 in one of Asia's longest-raging insurgencies, causing about 40,000 combatant and civilians deaths and undermining security and development. The military estimates that up to 4,000 Marxist insurgents still fight despite years of battle setbacks.
Duterte resumed peace talks with the rebels when he took power in 2016, but canceled them last year to protest continued guerrilla attacks on troops. He also signed an order declaring the rebel group a terrorist organization, a label the insurgents have opposed. The United States has also designated the rebels as terrorists.