DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /06 August) — Five soldiers and two members of the New Peoples Army (NPA), one of them a female, were killed in a series of clashes in Monkayo and Maragusan towns in Compostela Valley and in the outskirts of Valencia City in Bukidnon on August 4 and 5, less than a week after President Rodrigo Duterte lifted his July 25 order declaring a unilateral ceasefire with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
In Compostela Valley, a total of four soldiers and two NPA members were killed while 12 soldiers were wounded in clashes in Monkayo and Maragusan towns on August 4 and 5, the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) said.
In Bukidnon, the 4th Infantry Division reported one killed in a clash between the Army’s 1st special Forces Battalion and NPA guerrillas allegedly “conducting extortion activities at Sitio Kambangon, Brgy Lilingayon, an outskirt community of Valencia City,” at around 2 p.m. on August 5.
In a press release issued on August 6, Capt. Rhyan Batchar, chief of the Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO) of the Eastmincom’s 10th Infantry Division, said two soldiers from the Charlie Company of the 25th Infantry Battalion were wounded in a 15-minute firefight with the NPA along Kilometer 56 in Barangay Rizal, Monkayo at at around 1:30 p.m. on August 4.
The injured soldiers were immediately airlifted to Camp Panacan Station Hospital in the EastMinCom in Davao City.
The pursuing troops again clashed with the NPA at around 7:50 a.m. on August 5. Batchar said some 60 members of the NPA “attacked the outnumbered troops utilizing IED (improvised explosive devices) and high-powered firearms.”
In a statement, the NPA owned up the ambush.
Batchar said the clash lasted about 45 minutes and left three soldiers dead and 10 others wounded.
He said the three soldiers — Cpl. Jimmy M. Bayta, Cpl. Gilmar C. Mapa and Pfc Rolen Roy Sarmiento — “were declared dead-on-arrival by the attending physicians” at the Camp Panancan Station Hospital, where the 10 injured soldiers were also brought.
The NPA, he said, “carted away the rifles and personal belongings of the dead soldiers” but “a dead body of an unidentified female (NPA) left behind by her fleeing comrades was recovered by the pursuing soldiers.”
Batchar said three other NPA guerrillas were arrested, among them an injured guerrilla who was administered first aid by the troops.
The arrested members were turned over to the Philippine National Police “for proper disposition and subsequent filing of charges.”
Another clash between soldiers and the NPA occurred in Barangay Parasanon in Maragusan town also in Compostela Valley province, at around 1 pm. on August 5.
Soldiers from the 71st IB engaged in a firefight with around 30 members of the NPA which Batchar identified to be from the Guerilla Front 27 of the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Command.
Batchar told MindaNews the soldier initially reported as wounded died on the way to the hospital. The slain soldier was identified as Sgt. Ruel Mangaoang.
“The troops recovered another dead body of an unidentified NPA, one carbine rifle, one IED and several personal belongings from the fleeing NPAs,” Batchar’s statement said.
The bodies of the slain NPA are in a funeral parlor in Panabo City, he told MindaNews.
The New People’s Army Regional Operations Command in Southern Mindanao Region (NPA-SMROC) e-mailed a statement to media outlets at 8:11 p.m. on August 5, titled “Abusive AFP operating troops in Monkayo, Comval struck in NPA counter-offensives, 6 firearms seized” but said nothing about the death toll on their side.
The statement, signed by Rigoberto Sanchez, said the 8th Pulang Bagani Company-NPA carried out what it described as a “series of counter-offensives against the operating troops of the 25th Infantry Battalion, punishing 11 fascist soldiers and seizing six firearms during a raid, an attritive action and an ambush on August 2, 4 and 5, 2016 in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley.”
“The NPA’s punitive action is a just reprisal in the face of atrocities committed by the 25th IB combat soldiers such as ransacking of civilian houses and farms, mauling and intimidation of peasants and Lumads in Monkayo town since June,” Sanchez said, adding that the Army “had not reduced the intensity of its combat-intel-psywar operations in the communities” within the period the unilateral ceasefire of Duterte was in force from July 25 to July 30.
Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25 but lifted it at 7 p.m. on July 30 after the NDF did not reciprocate his ceasefire at 5 p.m that day.
Duterte gave the NDF 24 hours or until 5 p.m. of July 30, to reciprocate government’s unilateral ceasefire following the ambush by the NPA in Kapalong, Davao del Norte where one Cafgu member was killed and four others were injured.
Sanchez said the 8th PBC-NPA on August 2, “neutralized Cpl. Castro, an intelligence operative of the 25thIB who was caught conducting combat intel operation in the communities of Brgy. Baylo, Monkayo” and seized from a 9mm caliber and .22 caliber pistols.
On August 4, he said, the NPA engaged a platoon of the 25th IB in Barangay Pasian, Monkayo, “killing two Army soldiers and wounding three others.”
Sanchez said that at around 7:30 a.m. on August 5, the NPA “successfully ambushed a company of the 25th IB in Sitio Inuburan, Brgy. Rizal, killing 5 AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) troops, seizing two M203 grenade launchers, one M4 rifles, Harris radios, and several other military hardware.”
He said the 8th PBC’s tactical counter-offensives against the military “should serve as a stern warning to other operating Army units in Southern Mindanao region. “
“These AFP troops that are active in combat-intel-psywar operations in the countryside continue and remain to be legitimate targets of the Red Army,” Sanchez added.
Sanchez also said the NPA-SMROC has directed its fighters in the region “to remain on alert status, intensify its base building and base defense work, expand its services in the guerilla bases and guerilla zones, punish AFP troops operating in civilian communities, and pursue revolutionary justice for the basic masses who are victims of repression and fascist abuses.”
He said they will “defend its ranks and the masses through armed offensives and counter-offensives, foil the AFP’s treacherous and ruthless military operations, and remain committed in addressing the roots of the armed conflict” while it “awaits positive development” in the forthcoming peace negotiations with the government.
The government and NDF are scheduled to meet on August 20 to 27 in Oslo, Norway for the first round of formal peace talks.
In a statement, Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, 10th ID chief, expressed his grief over the death of his four soldiers and the injuries to 12 others.
“It is time for us to stop these senseless violence. All those who died and got wounded in these incidents are all Filipinos,” Valencia said.
While the AFP joins the Filipino people’s cry for peace, the soldiers “will not hesitate to use legitimate force to protect the communities and the people from any armed group who terrorizes them.”
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., chief of the 4th Infantry Division congratulated his troops “for successfully pushing the NPA extortionists away from that peaceful community” but expressed sadness that one of his soldiers “paid his ultimate sacrifice when he offered his own life just to free our people from NPA atrocities.”
“For the NPA in that area, this is a lose-lose situation whenever we see Filipinos losing their precious lives in this conflict. There’s nothing noble about making our people miserable. We urge you to heed the call of the government to stop this non-sense armed struggle and start living peacefully with your families,” the 4th ID statement quoted Madrigal in its statement.
President Duterte is expected to visit the wake of the four soldiers in Camp Panacan as well as visit the wounded soldiers in the hospital. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)