CARMEN, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews / 17 March) – Some 60 families from two villages here left their homes after soldiers of the 58 Infantry Battalion traded fire with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels last March 15.
Gripped in fear, villagers quickly packed what their hands could carry as the sound of gunfire and explosions echoed across the mountain side near the town center of Carmen which started at around 3:30 Friday afternoon.
Ernesto Palatulon, chairman of Sitio Kabayawa, Barangay Poblacion expressed how thankful he was that no one in his family nor among the villagers got hurt.
“I was not in the sitio that time but we heard it as far from here in the town proper. I was so afraid for my family that I immediately hurried towards my house in the hills. Thankfully my children and their families were also on their way out of the village when I arrived, thankfully no one got hurt,” said Palatulon.
He explained that even though the local government did not order any evacuation, the people were so frightened that they left their houses in a hurry.
“Just in Sitio Kabayawa alone 47 families evacuated. Other families from Sitio Makupa and from Tubod evacuated as well,” he said.
Charlito Rabadan, a farmer from Sitio Kabayawa, said he was out in the field when it all happened and immediately hurried back home.
“All six of us, including my wife and children, immediately came down from our home in the hills. We saw other families rush to the town proper, too. Loud automatic gunfire from the mango plantation where the encounter took place echoed across the hills,” said Rabadan.
One of the teachers in the elementary school in Sitio Kabayawa who requested anonymity revealed how she and other teachers immediately guided the school children out the school.
“The children cried and shouted as they panicked. We tried to keep them calm while moving out of the school down towards the town proper,” said the teacher.
Rabadan confirmed what the teachers did, saying it was heroic. Some of the teachers, he added, were even crying as they guided the children.
On the other side of the encounter area in Sitio Campo Uno, Barangay Rojales residents also heard the exchange of gunfire but only few evacuated.
Raymond Obejero, a motorcycle driver, said a mountain separates their village from the clash site, and so most of the residents felt safe. But he did not bother taking the chance, so he and his family left and headed towards the poblacion.
1Lt Nestor Endozo Jr., Alpha Company commander of the 58IB, explained that the encounter took place after they pinpointed the NPA’s location in the valley.
The soldiers recovered unexploded landmines, ammunitions, 20 pieces of uniforms, 20 pieces of food containers and other materials and paraphernalia used by the NPA, Endozo said.
Residents reported that gunfire was last heard 7 a.m. Saturday. Most of the residents of Sitio Kabayawa still have not returned to their houses and managed to stay with relatives and friends in the town proper as military operations in the area continued until Sunday.
In January 2009, the town’s municipal hall and the police station were attacked by NPA rebels, killing a police officer. (Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)