Guide hurt as foreign bird watchers caught in Army, NPA clash

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/17 Feb) — A local tour guide was hurt when a group of foreign bird watchers he was helping got caught in an encounter between the Army and the New People’s Army Friday morning, the office of the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) here said.

Daniel Somera, deputy PASu told MindaNews all seven foreigners were unhurt contrary to reports that one of them was killed.

Tour guide Carlito Gayramara, 61, considered by the PASu personnel as “expert local tour guide in the area” was hit on his left arm and was brought to the Malaybalay Polymedic General Hospital (MPGH). He is scheduled for an operation for a broken bone.

The birdwatchers were identified, according to the visitors’ permit the PASu granted them on January 29, as British nationals Peter Simpson, Paul Thomas Rendell, and Jill Patricia Rendell; Danish nationals Leo Soegaard Borch, Birgitte Noerregaard, and Ole Frederiksen; and Australian national Richard Lindsay Johnstone.

One of the foreigners was reported lost and killed but Somera clarified that Johnstone only got separated from the group.

The bird watchers were scheduled to visit a site with a vantage view of the Philippine Eagle’s nest site in Mangasa, Dalwangan, Malaybalay City from February 11 to 14. Somera said they were in the area before sunrise today but heard of gunfire a little past 8 a.m.

Major Jennan Montealto, spokesperson of the 403rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army told MindaNews the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion had a clash with the rebel groups in the area near where the bird watchers were stationed.

Montealto, who reported no casualty from them in this latest incident, said the Army had clashed with the same group three days earlier in nearby Brgy. Kapitan Anghel, also in this city. He said one of the soldiers was wounded and eventually died. He said the troops were in the area to pursue the rebels.

With over 125 species of birds, about half of them endemic to the area, including the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Mt. Kitanglad is one of the favorite destinations of bird watchers.

An average of 800 bird watchers visit Kitanglad in a year, 4% of them foreigners, Somera said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)