Hundreds flee Panabo village due to air strike vs suspected NPA areas

Minda Morante, OCD Southeastern Mindanao regional director, told MindaNews the evacuees rode on a dump truck and a 10-wheeler cargo vehicle provided by the city  government.

The city government converted the gymnasium of the Panabo City Elementary Central School as an evacuation site and sent more vehicles to the two barangays fearing more evacuations. 

Morante cited reports from the Panabo City Disaster Coordination Council, which monitored evacuations from barangays Manay and Kasilak starting 11:30 a.m., more than an hour after the military started firing at the alleged NPA positions in the two barangays.

Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the EastMinCom said this is part of the pursuit operations against the rebels who raided the Davao Prison and Penal Farm and carted away 117 firearms Easter Sunday morning.

Cabangbang told MindaNews that the military launched both aerial and ground assaults at around 10 a.m.

Members of the Army's 73rd Infantry Battalion and Davao del Norte police tried to enter Manay village after being tipped about the presence in the area of NPA guerillas led by Leoncio Pitao alias Kumander Parago.

Cabangbang said the NPA "sniped armor vehicles" of the military positioned in the area.

He said some 60 rebels were seen to have allegedly held hostage the residents and used them as human shield for cover in withdrawing.

Residents interviewed by GMA-7 Testigo, however, said no such thing happened and that it was fear following the military attack and possible encounter, that forced them to flee.

Cabangbang accused the residents of cooperating with the communist rebels. "The NPA has even assembled in banana plantations in the area," he said.

Morante said no encounter was reported to have occurred of 1:30p.m. The OCD still could not confirm if, indeed, some evacuees were held hostage. She said, however, that no casualties were reported after the shelling.

A member of the Panabo City Disaster Coordinating Council told MindaNews a team of municipal officials will survey the area tonight (Wednesday night) for possible evacuations.

The barangays are around 25 minutes away from Panabo City by private vehicle. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)