NPA denies "huge" casualties in Tulunan encounter

In a statement signed by one Ka Irma, spokesperson of the Front 72 Operational Command, the rebels said the alleged NPA leader identified as Pedro Fabillo alias Ka Jekjek was a member of the rebel militia forces in the area and was not a regular NPA member.

But Ka Irma admitted that Fabillo was a former NPA member under the Front 51 Command of the Southern Mindanao Region of the rebel organization but laid low in 1999.

"He, however, remained active as a member of the people's militia under Front 72," she further said.

The rebel spokesperson likewise acknowledged the death of Jerry Saliga, alias Ka Edmond, who was killed during an encounter on February 2.

Lt. Col. Milfredo Megrito, commanding officer of the Philippine Army's 57th Infantry Battalion, last week said six NPA rebels were killed during a series of gun battles Friday which were followed by aerial bombardment from the AFP's air assets in Bacung village in Tulunan.

A resident, who was identified as German Braga, said at least two MG-520 attack helicopters were seen flying over the area where the NPA rebels were holed up.

In a related development, Megrito on Monday said a wounded NPA rebel, who the military identified as Danilo Maligante, was captured by government troops pursuing the rebel band.

But Ka Irma denied Maligante is an NPA rebel.  

The rebel leader said Maligante was a peanut harvester who happened to be in the area when the encounter took place.

She likewise said at least three government soldiers were either killed or wounded during the running gun battle which lasted more than five hours.

The military has neither confirmed nor denied the allegation. 

Meanwhile close to 300 B'laan families have reportedly fled their homes following the encounters between government forces and the rebels.

As of Friday, the evacuees have reached 2,000, according to reports from the Tulunan Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO).

The MSWDO report said the military operations, which started Monday last week have already affected four vill
ages in Tulunan and a village in Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur. 

The evacuees are temporarily housed at the multi-purpose building and day care center in Barangay Bacung in Tulunan according to reports.

Tulunan municipal social worker Jennalyn Victoria Delasan said the military has sealed off Bacung village in Tulunan because of ongoing skirmishes in the area.

"The military told us to stay put. They have not given us signal to proceed to the area," she said. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)