NPA shouldn’t have targeted civilians, Army spokesperson says

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 Feb) – The simultaneous attacks of the New People’s Army (NPA) in three areas in Bukidnon Tuesday night was a  “desperate projection of a position of strength” and should not have targeted civilians, Lt. Col. Eugenio Osias, the 4th  Infantry Division spokesperson, said here Wednesday.

A security guard was killed while two other security guards and one bystander hit by M-14 rifles, were seriously injured

Alfredo Neri, the security guard on duty at the vehicle gate of Del Monte Philippines Inc.’s (DMPI) main entrance in Camp Phillips, Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon, succumbed to two gunshot wounds on his upper right torso, as the rebels entered the compound.

Osias said the series of attacks on Tuesday evening was the communist guerillas’  “desperate projection of a position of strength.”

“These attacks were not propaganda anymore since they (NPAs) have continuously targeted civilians. Dili unta apil ang mga sibilyan just to project strength”  (they shouldn’t have included civilians just to project strength), said Osias.

He said the attacks showed that the government’s awareness-raising in the countryside is effective.

He said the NPA “hit those who could not fight back so that the attacks would be successful and they can project their control over these areas. But the fact is, their collection of funds from ‘permits to campaign,’ ‘permits to win’ and their ‘so-called taxes’ are dwindling,” he said.

Hours after the attacks, Jorge Madlos, spokesperson for the National Democratic Front-Mindanao (NDF) confirmed  that NPA guerrillas belonging to the North Central Mindanao Regional Command launched the attacks.

“The attacks were meant to be punitive action against the expansion of operations of Del Monte and Dole—to send a strong message to put a stop to land-use conversion and retribution for the victims of tropical storm Sendong,” Madlos said in a text message.

Madlos said the attacks were neither connected with the upcoming midterm elections in May nor collection of revolutionary taxes. “It is not about money. Ila na na kung gusto nila (It’s theirs if they want it). This is about exacting justice.”

“The objective was to demoralize the despotic security forces — Kadre Security Forces — of Del Monte through a surprise attack. Your genuine army (referring to the NPA) is well-trained and well-disciplined that is why they were successful in executing the planned assault,” he said.

Waning support

Osias said the NPA fighters belonged to NPA’s Guerrilla Front 89 under Kumander Bagwis, Piton, Ambo and Archie. He added that this guerrilla front mainly operates in Bukidnon province.

“We received complaints from civilians who passed by the NPA’s chokepoint in La Fortuna that the rebels divested them of their laptops and cellphones. One student told me that one rebel asked for his wallet to check if he was a military asset. But his wallet was never returned to him,” he said.

“That’s why the complaints received by the police is that there was an ongoing armed robbery because the NPA took cellphones and wallets from the civilians they stopped,” said Osias.

He claimed the NPA wasn’t able to inflict much damage since police troopers from the 1st Platoon of the Bukidnon Provincial Public Safety Company, based in Barangay Ala-e, this city responded quickly.

Osias said the burning of heavy equipment was interrupted so there was not much damage to the properties in the compound.

“Armed robbery”

In an interview Tuesday night,  SPO2 Jayson Sabac of the 1st Platoon of the Bukidnon Provincial Public Safety Company said their unit responded to a report of a “supposed armed robbery” at a Caltex Station, in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon at about 6:20 pm, Tuesday.

“As we were nearing the gasoline station, we saw what appeared to be a checkpoint and we thought it was manned by other government troops, like the Army. Our commander shouted to ask what unit they belonged to. When one of the groups at the checkpoint answered back ‘NPA,’ we immediately engaged them in a firefight,” said Sabac. He added that they were at least “20 to 50 meters from the rebels and the firefight lasted around 20 minutes.”

He added that while they were engaged in the firefight, he could hear the heavy equipment inside a motor pool garage in front of the Caltex gas station and that there were some explosions.

Sabac said they were the first to respond because their detachment is in Barangay Ala-e, Cagayan de Oro City which was only “about 10 to 11 kilometers away from the gas station.”

A Kadre security guard who asked not to be named since he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said the communist rebels “may have confiscated two M16 rifles, four .38 caliber pistols, six VHF hand-held radios and two cellphones when they assaulted the Office of the Chief Security of Del Monte and a shotgun from the guard at the motor pool garage in front of the Caltex gas station.”

“The NPAs burned one canter truck, one grader, two motorcycles and one boom sprayer truck inside the motor pool garage,” the Kadre security guard said.



Daring raid                                                      

Roughly a hundred NPA guerillas launched simultaneous attacks on three different sites in Bukidnon at around 6 p.m.

According to an initial report of the 4th Civil-Military Operations Battalion, the rebels razed Del Monte’s fertilizer warehouse and logistics office in Vista Villa, Sumilao, an administration office of Dole-Philippines in La Fortuna, Impasug-ong town and burned a canter truck, a grader, two motorcycles and one boom sprayer truck inside a motor pool garage in front of Caltex Gas Station in Manolo Fortich.

In a text message, Bukidnon Governor Alex Calingasan on Tuesday evening said officers of the Manolo Fortich Municipal Police Station, who were on their way to La Fortuna as a reinforcement team, were blocked and disarmed by NPA fighters along Atugan Bridge in Malaybalay City at around 6:40 p.m.

“Police Supt. Jumalon , PO1 Mandar, PO2 Neri led by Police Insp. Galagala were en route to respond to the incident in Camp Phillips where the main target of the armed group was launched when they were blocked by the rebels at the Atugan Bridge. Taken from the police officers were an M14 rifle, a 9mm pistol, M16 rifle and a .45 caliber pistol,” Calingasan said.

Osias said their intelligence units had monitored the massing up of NPA fighters in the hinterland barangays in Bukidnon, weeks prior to the attacks.

“However, the problem with intelligence reports is that it is the subject who dictates the day, time and target area of the attack,” he explained.

Osias estimated that the number of NPA guerillas who launched the attacks could not have reached more than a hundred “based on their mobility after the attacks, their main assault force  that razed trucks and heavy equipment inside the motor pool compound in Manolo Fortich and burned the fertilizer warehouse in Sumilao. An additional 20 combatants deployed in Atugan Bridge and Impasug-ong to serve as blocking force against reinforcement.”

Combat pursuit operations

Osias said that the NPA combatants withdrew towards Barangay Dahilayan on board two forward trucks and three passenger vans.

“They (took) Dahilayan barangay chair Winny Sumooy and four ‘habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers as their human shields,” he said.

“I thought they respect and adhere to the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law),” Osias asked.

He added that the combined troops of 403rd Infantry Brigade, based in Malaybalay City, under Colonel James Jacob and 8th Infantry Battalion, based in Maramag town, Bukidnon, under Lieutenant Colonel Jose Ma. Cuerpo, were deployed late Tuesday night to pursue the retreating guerillas. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)