Farmers flee Bukidnon fighting

Retired Col. Francisco Simbajon, spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said troops sent to flush out the rebels suffered casualties. An Army corporal, Redan Arit, was killed and two other soldiers – Sgt. Alberto Madolin and Private First Class Adscar Mala – all of the 26th Infantry Battalion, were wounded in a firefight with New People’s Army rebels in Sitio Bendom, Barangay Busdi, 50 kilometers northeast from Malaybalay City last Friday, he said.

There were no reported casualties on the rebels who took advantage of the fog that covered the mountains and thick foliage around Barangay Busdi, he said.

The fighting started on the day President Arroyo  ordered the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to crush the communist insurgency in two years.

Arroyo pledged an additional P1 billion to the defense and police budgets to boost the efforts to crush the insurgency. The extra money will be used to buy reconditioned helicopters and fund operations against the communist insurgents.

The presidential order, however, came with a price to the people living in the countryside where communist rebels hold considerable influence.

Flores said the mass evacuation started Saturday when MG-520 helicopter gunships bombed a suspected rebel camp in Barangay Busdi that day.

Flores said the evacuees found their way to nearby Barangay Saint Peter where they sought refuge at the village elementary school. She said local education officials have suspended the classes there.

The city government of Malaybalay gave food and blankets to the evacuees, many of whom, Flores said, brought only a few belongings.

Flores said at least one woman fainted when she arrived at the Saint Peter Elementary School due to exhaustion and hunger.

“We gave three days of food but we think these are not enough. We think the fighting will drag on,” Flores said.

Flores expressed fears more people will evacuate if the fighting will continue.

Army officials in Cagayan de Oro justified as “necessary” the military operations against the NPA rebels who earlier reportedly torched eight vehicles owned by a construction firm.

Simbajon said a team from the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion ran into well-fortified rebel positions in Sitio Bendom, Barangay Busdi last Friday.

He said a firefight occurred around 5:45 pm Friday and lasted through the night.  The Army battalion, he added, wasn’t able to immediately extricate the two wounded soldiers and the remains of Arit because of the intense fighting and dense mountain foliage.

“The rebels even fired at the gunships with Caliber 50  machineguns when the helicopters strafed at their positions,” Simbajon said

Simbajon said the rebels, numbering around 60,  torched the vehicles owned by Concepcion Basic Builders Inc., in Zamboanguita, Malaybalay City last June 8.

He said the rebels were the same one who ambushed soldiers in Zamboanguita. killing an Army officer last week. (Froilan O. Gallardo/MindaNews)