BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/23 June) — Two members of the 26th Infantry Battalion were killed in an encounter with the New People’s Army (NPA) in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur late Saturday afternoon.
Lt. Col. Jose Leonard Gille, 26th Infantry Battalion commander, said that the two soldiers were killed while conducting pursuit operations against the NPA guerrillas.
“After last Tuesday’s NPA attack on the two barangays that killed five residents, we launched a massive pursuit operation against the fleeing rebels. Our team caught up with one of the group of around 15 NPA personnel which ended in a 20 minute firefight at around 4 in the afternoon in Barangay Maliwanag,” said Gille.
Saturday’s encounter came four days after about a hundred members of the NPA stormed barangays Hawilian and Milagros and allegedly executed five civilians including two tribal leaders of the Higaonon tribe.
Gille said the bodies of the victims were airlifted early Sunday morning after staying a night at the encounter area.
“The bodies of Pfc Rolly Julia and Cpl Albasar Ahalil were brought to Butuan City. Ahalil’s body will then be brought to Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro to be airlifted finally to his home in Jolo, Sulu,” said Gille.
He said the group of guerrillas that attacked last Tuesday had dispersed.
“I believe that we are squeezing their escape route and they are getting desperate in their attempt to hide from us. Other troops are now also pursuing other routes and others have been inserted deep inside forested areas through helicopter support,” he said.
Police Senior Inspector Nelven Rufon, municipal police chief of Esperanza town said they have been on red alert since the attack.
“A contingent of the police Special Action Force (SAF) had been deployed near the area to provide security to the community. We have coordinated with the Army and made random check points to deter escalation of the incident towards populated areas in the town,” said Rufon.
In an interview over Bombo Radyo Butuan City on Wednesday evening, Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Mindanao, said what happened on Tuesday was a legitimate encounter between the NPA and those who were killed. He said the victims were members of the anti-communist group “Wild Dogs.”
Photographs from the police showed the victims with their hands tied behind their backs. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)