80 families flee, soldier killed as AFP, NPA clashed in NorthCot

MAKILALA, North Cotabato (MindaNews/04 September)—At least 80 families have fled their homes after clashes erupted Tuesday afternoon between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in hinterland Barangay Cabilao here.

The firefight left Sgt. Arnold Vigo of the 57th Infantry Battalion’s Bravo Company dead, said 1st Lt. Nasrullah Sema, 57th IB spokesperson.

Armando Laman, a kagawad of Barangay Cabilao, said that 80 families from four sitios (hamlets) of the village evacuated to safer areas when government troops and communist guerrillas clashed at around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Of the 80 families, at least 30 were temporarily housed at the barangay hall, while others have sought shelter in the homes of their relatives and friends in the village center, he said.

In a text message to radio station dxND in Kidapawan City, Laman said the evacuees came from sitios Lamudon, Eden, Medang, and Badiangon, all in the hinterland of Barangay Cabilao.

Laman said the fighting has caused fear and trouble among farmers and rubber tappers in the village.

“Our farmers, who are depending much on their farm to survive, were prevented from tilling their lands because the tension between the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the NPA remains high,” said Laman.

Sema separately told dxND that Vigo and his troops were conducting patrol operations in the area when they encountered the NPA rebels.

The soldiers were deployed there after the communist guerillas torched last Sunday the processing plant of the Standard Rubber Development Corp. (Standeco) in nearby Barangay Talun-talunan, also in Makilala, he said.

Vigo was seriously wounded and expired a few hours later at a hospital in Kidapawan City, Sema said.

“Before the firefight, a landmine planted along the road leading to the hinterland of Barangay Cabilao went off to prevent soldiers from running after the rebels. The blast, however, did not stop our men from conducting pursuit operations,” he said.

Sema believed the NPA rebels encountered by the soldiers on Tuesday afternoon was the same group that attacked Standeco last Sunday that left an estimated P30 million worth of facilities destroyed.

Initial investigations showed that the rebels belong to the NPA Guerrilla Front 72 that operates along the tri-boundary of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces.

At least 700 Standeco workers, mostly contractual employees, have lost their jobs after firm’s facilities were razed to the ground, said Makilala Mayor Rudy Caoagdan.

“It would take time before the establishment could recover from its big losses. It’s a lot difficult for the affected workers to also recover after losing their jobs. These workers are on a ‘no work, no pay’ status,” he added. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)