No let up in pursuit of rebels after prison raid – AFP

Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana, commander of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command, said the pursuit operations will continue "for as long as it takes."

"We will hunt them down, and as miserable as their lives are, we will make it even more miserable by pursuing them with no let up," he said.

"They may have scored significantly in the Davao Penal Colony raid, but they will regret to have taken part in what we view as a direct assault against the government," he said in a press release to MindaNews Thursday afternoon.

He said using human civilians as human shields is an NPA tactic when surrounded by government forces. He said the government suppressed firing for fear of hitting civilians.

Villagers of Man-ay and Kasilak in Panabo City, however, hit the military for launching attacks in their village Wednesday which forced them to flee for safety (see related story).

The villagers denied the rebels have hostaged them as human shields. Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, EastMinCom spokesperson, accused the villagers of cooperating with the NPA.

The military connected the Panabo assault as an offshoot of the raid. Obaniana said it was the NPA who attacked first.

He said troops from the 73rd Infantry Battalion were passing by the barangay when the rebels engaged the military's armored vehicles.

Sensing that the NPA force was sizeable, he said, the troops requested for close air support from the Philippine Air Force's Tactical Operations Group.

He said the rebels ran when the Air Force fired 40 millimeter rockets, forcing them to occupy a small community nearby.

In Kidapawan City, the regional police office considers six areas in the region — including this city — as “highly influenced” by the communist rebels.

Chief Supt. Felizardo Serapio, regional police director, said that Kidapawan serves as the rebels’ “white area” and the neighboring towns of Magpet and Makilala as their “red areas.”

In June 2005, the rebels raided the police station in Magpet where they carted away 29 high-powered firearms. Makilala town is believed to be the headquarters of the NPA’s Front 51.

Also included in the list are the municipalities of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, and Alabel and Maitum towns in Sarangani.

An area can be considered “highly influenced” by the NPAs when these are used as their training grounds, said Serapio, “and that the rebels want to maintain their stronghold of the area.” Furthermore, half of these areas’ population are organized and can be mobilized by the rebels, he added.

The rebels operating in those areas belong to the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Regional Committee.

Serapio said that with the latest NPA raid on the Davao Penal Colony in Davao del Sur, he has already declared all units in his area of responsibility in “full red alert” status.

“We’ve received reports that the NPA will launch attacks this summer, so we’re making it sure we will avert any plan to attack our units,” Serapio said in a radio interview.

This as the Merardo Arce Command of the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command boasted that the Dapecol raid on April 8 was “a big slap” in the face of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and that “it exposed weaknesses and futility of the government’s anti-insurgency campaign dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya Part 2.”

“This is one of the biggest haul of the NPA since its founding in March 29, 1969,” said Rigoberto Sanchez, the command’s spokesman, in a press statement.

“This tactical offensive is a big slap in the face of the AFP and PNP,” said Sanchez, adding that the raid showed the inability Army “to contain the consistent advance of the armed struggle waged by a revolutionary army that has a wide and deep mass base and cherished by the oppressed and exploited masses.”

“Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana's claim of gaining the upper hand is proven to be nothing but braggadocio. That the NPA is still able to launch tactical offensives not only against the mobile and territorial forces of the AFP and PNP conducting combat and special operations inside guerrilla zones and bases but also against perfectly legitimate targets located in towns and cities only reveals the many insurmountable weaknesses and problems of the AFP/PNP,” he stressed. (MindaNews)