Idyllic Camp Phillips: dreamland no more after NPA attack

CAMP PHILLIPS, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon (MindaNews / 21 Feb) – The attack by the New People’s Army at the Del Monte Philippines Inc., compound here last Tuesday left  a chilling effect on the residents of Camp Phillips, a “dreamland” community for its company officials and workers.

FALLEN ICON. NPA rebels topple this huge pineapple icon located in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon during last Tuesday's attack. Camp Phillips residents are angry why the icon that symbolizes their community was destroyed by the rebels. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
FALLEN ICON. NPA rebels topple this huge pineapple icon located in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon during last Tuesday’s attack. Camp Phillips residents are angry why the icon that symbolizes their community was destroyed by the rebels. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

For hours, Camp Phillips residents cowered as NPA rebels disguised as Army soldiers fired their guns in the air as they attacked two compounds of Del Monte located at the middle of the community Tuesday night.

The rebels  burned several trucks,  ransacked several  offices and left a security guard identified as Alfredo Neri dead and two others wounded. A habal-habal  (motorcycle) driver identified as Mario Ayuban was also shot and wounded in the thigh as he was about to answer a phone call.

Before the rebels left, they used a truck to ram and topple down a huge pineapple icon located at the entrance of Camp Phillips.

“What the rebels saw in the icon was maybe something evil but pineapple is what feeds our families, gave education to our children. The pineapple icon was a symbol of our community,”  said Gyllen Sanchez, 31.

“We are not used to this kind of violence. I grew up in a peaceful environment in Camp Phillips where there is hardly no crime reported,” she said.

Sanchez said Camp Phillips, from where Del Monte manages operation of its vast pineapple plantation and where many of  the families of its officials and workers reside, does not even have a single policeman. She said the place is secured by Del Monte’s private security agency.

Sanchez said  the security guards go around Camp Phillips unarmed. “They are only armed at the gates,” she added.

Mayette Rivera, also a  Camp Phillips resident, said the community was used to having no crimes that most of the houses’ doors are unlocked.

“We are used to living in an idyllic environment where it is safe to raise our children. I doubt if we can still have this after this raid,” Rivera said.

Camp Phillips was set up right after Del Monte started its operations in Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon in 1926.

At a nearby airfield in Barangay Dicklum was where Gen. Douglas MacArthur, his family and staff made their dramatic escape on board a B17 “flying fortress” plane to Australia on March 17, 1942.

The United States Air Force also built a weather station in nearby Barangay Damilag in the early 1970s. The site is now the training camp of the Philippine National Police Regional Special Action Force.

But it was in Camp Phillips – in the rows of small houses and bungalows — residents and visitors fell in love with despite the fact that workers and officers have to leave when they retire from Del Monte.

“Camp Phillips is a walkable, bikable community. Everything – offices, stores, schools, churches, videokes, cafés – is within walking distance,” reads a post at the blog site “Bukidnon my home.”

“The climate is perfect for backyard gardening. There is enough land in everyone’s backyard to put SM Hypermart out of business. And I am talking backyard – front yard is for flower gardens and landscapes. Our backyard has some space for at least 20 kinds of vegetables,” read another post at the same blog site.

“We used to be the envy of everyone from Cagayan de Oro to Bukidnon. Camp Phillips is a self-contained community with enough fresh milk, organic vegetables to buy,” Rivera said

Residents told reporters that around 100 NPA rebels dressed as Army soldiers arrived in Camp Phillips aboard commuter vans and trucks. A few even made a stop asking for directions to the Del Monte compound.

Del Monte worker Victor Tolentino said he was standing outside one of the stores waiting for his shift when the rebels arrived in front of the Del Monte compound.

“The first thing I noticed was that they were too young to be soldiers. They spread themselves outside the gate. I think they were about a hundred of them,” Tolentino said.

He said several rebels went to the stores in front of the Del Monte compound and announced to everyone not to move and that no one should raise their cell phones.

“Then everything started. Two young female rebels raised and started waving  two red flags with hammer and sickle. Another two female rebels were holding cameras and filming everything,” Tolentino narrated.

He said everyone just stood and watched from the sidelines, unable to move because all of them were scared.

Tolentino said he saw Ayuban driving his motorcycle from a bend while answering a call from one of his clients. A rebel mistakenly thought Ayuban was calling the police and shot him on his thigh.

He said the raid was over in less than 30 minutes with the rebels leaving towards Barangay Dahilayan, a resort village near Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon.

In a statement e-mailed to news organizations, Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao command, said the rebels also attacked the facility of Dole-Stanfilco in Impasug-ong town in Bukidnon.

National Democratic Front spokesperson Jorge Madlos told a radio station in Cagayan de Oro that the attack on Del Monte was “a form of punishment” for its refusal to heed their demand to stop their operations.

Madlos blamed Del Monte for clogging the waterways and tributaries, causing the deadly flood waters of tropical storm Sendong that killed more than a thousand people in Cagayan de Oro in December 2011.

He warned that more attacks will be launched against Del Monte unless it stops its operations or stops expanding its vast pineapple plantations.

Rivera said the threat left a chilling effect among Camp Phillips residents.

“Now everyone will be on their toes.  Every time there will be power interruptions everyone will be alarmed, thinking the rebels have come back to attack again. This is not the life that we want,” Rivera said.

She said the idea of a dreamland was broken when the rebels came last Tuesday.

In a related development, the Department of Education reported that classes have not yet resumed to normal in Manolo Fortich after NPA attack.

Erlinda Chico, Dep-Ed Manolo Fortich district in charge, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that  classes have been disrupted because children and their parents are still traumatized by the attack.

She said that as of Thursday, two days after the attack, less than 50 percent of the students attended classes. On Wednesday, only about five pupils showed up in most classes.

Chico appealed for the government and the rebel group to “choose peaceful means” to address conflicts.

“Consider talks, peaceful means like dialogues to address the issues,” she added.

The afternoon class schedule in the town has been adjusted from the usual 1-4 p.m. to 12:30- 3:15 p.m.

Chico said children have to go home early to avoid danger. The teachers, too, choose not to wear their uniform to avoid being identified.

“The teachers reported for work but they also expressed fear about the incident,” she added.

Chico, who has been in service for 40 years, said it was the first incident of its kind to occur in their “peaceful” town. (Froilan Gallardo with a report from Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)