Rebel slain in Army-NPA clash in Makilala

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/23 Jan) — A member of the New People’s  Army (NPA) was killed in a clash with government troops in a remote village in Makilala, North Cotabato over the weekend.

The January 21 clash came on the same day the government and National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels signed in Rome, Italy the Supplemental Guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee which shall “additionally guide the work” of the Joint Monitoring Committee  in its task of “monitoring the implementation of, and achieving, the objectives of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.”

The NPA-Southern Mindanao confirmed the death of a comrade in a statement e-mailed to the media at 8:45  p.m. on Sunday, signed by Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesperson of the Regional Operations Command.

The statement claimed eight soldiers were killed, an allegation denied by the 10th Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command. . “No casualty on the government forces side,” Capt. Rhyan Batchar, chief of the Division Public Affairs Office of the 10th Infantry Division told MindaNews late Sunday night.

Senior Inspector Elias Colonia, chief of the Makilala municipal police station, identified the slain rebel as Rojit Ranara of NPA’s Front 51.

Colonel Harold Argamosa, commanding officer of the 39th Infantry Battalion, said Ranara’s body was taken by Mayor Rudy Caoagdan of Makilala for turnover to his family.

Rojit’s sister, Lolita, said they were surprised to learn that their brother was killed in an armed encounter with government troops.   His brother left their hometown in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur to work in a construction firm in North Cotabato.

“We didn’t know he would join the NPA.  This is sad,” Lolita said.

Argamosa said the encounter on January 21 happened when the Makilala police and the Army received reports that an armed group was seen massing in Sitio Lukatong, Barangay Biangan in Makilala.

In a press briefing, Argamosa noted that on January 20, a day before the clash,  a 10-wheeler truck driven by Delio Tongcos of the Santos Land Development Corporation was flagged down along Barangay Malasila road by four armed men who allegedly identified themselves as members of the NPA and took the key from the driver.

“Extortion was believed to be the motive behind the incident,” Argamosa said.

On January 21, Argamosa said he sent a team led by 2nd Lt. Rainer Serrano, to check if the NPA was indeed massing but before they could reach the area, they were attacked by at least 20 armed guerillas, leading to an hour-long clash.

Joy Mirasol, chair of Karapatan-North Cotabato, condemned what happened in Makilala and said it was a clear violation of the unilateral ceasefire.

Mirasol said they already conducted a quick documentation of what happened from January 21 to January 22 and would “submit results of our quick response to the GRP-NDFP panel as proof the Army in North Cotabato has violated the truce.”

In his Jan. 22 statement, Sanchez denounced what he described as “sinister combat operation” of the 39th IB.

He said troops from that unit arrived in Sitio Concepcion, Barangay Kisante in Makilala town at 5 a.m. on January 21 and “launched offensive operation towards Sitio Lokatong in Brgy. Biangan where an NPA unit was encamped.”

“Having monitored the enemy’s movement, Red fighters promptly maneuvered to avoid armed encounter,” Sanchez said, adding that the Army caught up with the NPA at around 5 p.m. “and  engaged them in an hour-long firefight which martyred one guerrilla fighter.”

In a press release e-mailed to the media at 3:49 p.m. Sunday, Batachar said  troops from the 39th IB and police personnel from Makilala Municipal Police Station pursued members of a “lawless armed group” that earlier harassed a truck driver.

Batchar said the military and police were fired upon by the “lawless armed group” at Brgy Biangan, Makilala, North Cotabato at around 5 p.m., leading to an hour-long exchange of gunfire, that at about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, the “lawless armed group” again fired at the troops who were scouring the site and after a 30-minute firefight, the troops recovered three high-powered rifles, several personal belongings “and a dead body of an unidentified man at the encounter site.”

In another press release, the 10th ID said the recovered war materiel from the Jan. 21 and 22 encounters inMakilala, North Cotabato “belong to the NPA under the Guerrilla Front 51.”

“Ceasefire violation”

The NPA statement said said what happened in Makilala was a ceasefire violation.  The government and the MILF each declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in August and were targeting to forge a bilateral ceasefire after two months. Both panels, however, are still working on it.

Sanchez said Sitio Lokatong in Brgy. Biangan “is a remote area that their presence can only mean an offensive operation against the NPA. Furthermore, they fool no one by claiming that their combat operation was merely in response to reports by local authorities of the presence of lawless groups: for the entire day, they actively maneuvered to engage the evading unit of the NPA.”

The biggest impediment to just and lasting peace, Sanchez said, is “the bullish insincerity of its armed forces to continue its counter-insurgency campaign that is the biggest impediment in the quest for just and lasting peace.” (MindaNews)