ANTICALA, Butuan City (MindaNews/29 March) — Two members of the paramilitary Cafgu were killed while some 5,000 devotees of the Good Friday “Panaad” (vow) stations of the cross trek to this mountain village were trapped for about four hours, when the New People’s Army fired at a team of soldiers, police personnel and members of the paramilitary at around 5 in the morning.
Butuan City Police Office deputy police chief, Supt. Romy Palgue told MindaNews that among those who were trapped were 1st district representative Jose Aquino II and City Police Chief along with 30 police personnel in exercise uniform who took part in the religious trek.
The clash disrupted the Good Friday annual Way of the Cross here as the devotees who started the trek at 4 a.m. reached only the seventh of 14 stations of the cross.
Father Joesilo Amalla condemned the Good Friday attack. “This should not have been done in the first place, to kill another person especially on this holy day. This is a very painful and terrifying experience especially when there are civilians with us,” said the priest who led the procession and blessed the corpse of one of the slain members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).
“May he rest in peace and we hope everyone will recover from the frightful experience,” he said.
Palgue said the exchange of gunfire started in Sitio Iyao, Purok 4 where the third station of the cross is located.
“The Cafgu from the 23rd Infantry battalion were part of the security escort together with members of the 3rd Special Forces battalion and 80 personnel from the City Public Safety Company and the Regional Public Safety Battalion,” he said.
He said the attack may have been related to the NPA’s 44th anniversary on March 29, which fell on a Good Friday.
“Since the start of this month, we had been under alert,” he said, adding that on March 5, soldiers from the Special Forces clashed with members of the NPA in the same barangay, sending 126 families to the evacuation centers.
Lt. Joe Patrick Martinez, commanding officer of the 42nd Civil Military Operations Company said the NPA team that harassed government’s security forces were from Guerilla Front 21C of the Northeastern Mindanao Committee.
“The security detail was initially fired from a position 20 meters behind the third station of the cross. After that a firefight erupted, killing two of our Cafgu (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit),” Martinez said.
The names of the slain Cafgu members were not made available pending notification of their relatives.
Escarlet Bulara, an itinerant vendor of eggs, coffee and rice cakes, was separated from her children aged 10 and 11, who were walking ahead of her.
She said the gunfire was so loud she and other vendors “immediately dropped to the ground.”
“We were very close to station number 3; we then hurried back to station 2,” she said.
The gunshots sent devotees in the third station and those who had gone ahead, scampering for safety.
By 9 a.m., the police had declared the area safe and Bulara was reunited with her children.
Fernan Revero, barangay captain of Obrero, told MindaNews he was with about 100 constituents from his barangay and were nearing the fourth station of the cross when they heard gunshots.
“At least three women companions fainted. We were all shocked and some panicked as the exchange of gunfire escalated. We can’t describe how frightened we all were when it all begun, most especially the children,” said Revero.
The NPA has yet to issue a statement on the Good Friday attack. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)