The Philippines' military said Sunday it had killed a senior leader of the armed wing of the country's rebel communist party that has been fighting the government since the 1960s.
New People's Army (NPA) commander and spokesman Jorge Madlos, also known as Ka Oris, was killed a day earlier during fighting in Bukidnon province on Mindanao island.
Troops were dispatched to a mountainous area of Bukidnon, 826 kilometers (513 miles) south of Manila, early Saturday after the military received reports of the presence of a group of communist rebels, authorities said.
Ferdinand Barandon, an army brigade commander, said the soldiers detected that the rebel encampment was fortified with landmines, prompting the military to launch airstrikes.
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Nobel laureate fights for press in Philippines
Body discovered after 30-minute gun battle
A 30-minute gunfight around rebel positions ensued and as troops later cleared the area, they discovered two bodies — Madlos and a fellow rebel, along with weapons and ammunition.
The state-run Philippines News Agency said Madlos was facing multiple criminal cases, including robbery with homicide, damage to property and several possible murder charges.
"Ka Oris was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of soldiers and civilians for decades," Colonel Ramon Zagala, a spokesman for the armed forces of the Philippines, said in a statement.
He added that Madlos' death was a "major blow" to the communist rebels in the southern region of Mindanao.
"His death will deter the activities and plans by the NPA for he can no longer direct the communist terrorists' violent actions against our people," Zagala said.
The NPA emerged in 1969, launching guerrilla warfare against the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, assassinating government officials and ambushing the military.
In 20 years, it grew from about 350 armed members to a strength of more than 20,000, becoming the chief threat to the elected government of President Corazon Aquino.
New People's Army rebels play a key part in the communist rebellion in the Philippines
Key role in communist rebellion
Today, the NPA remains one of the key elements in the communist rebellion, the country's longest ongoing conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 people.
Peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist rebels ended in November 2017, and attacks by the guerrillas have continued unabated.
In June, two civilians were killed central Philippines when a roadside bomb planted by communist rebels exploded after they ran over it while cycling.
The NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines are listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as the Philippines.