ALAGATAN, Gingoog City (MindaNews/15 July) – The attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) on soldiers of the 58th Infantry Battalion here Saturday afternoon has left several women and children traumatized.
“My four-year old daughter kept on saying ‘God help us, please God help us’ while crying,” Gem, who asked that her full identify be withheld, recalled.
“As the gunfight ensued, we thought we were going to die as we crawled on the bamboo floor. I held on tight to my two children and just prayed for our lives with our neighbors who were with us,” she said.
She added she was still experiencing fear and had difficulty getting sleep at night. “I can’t sleep properly; whenever the dogs bark we get out of bed in fear.”
“My daughter was in a state of shock after the incident; she can’t talk and would just cry. We just tried to keep on talking to her and thank God she now responds better,” Gem said, although she noted her daughter has been behaving differently after the incident.
“The frightening part was that the NPAs were hiding beneath the bamboo floor [of the house] where we were. If the soldier in the CVO (Civilian Volunteer Organization) outpost fired back I’m sure we all would have been dead. The soldier just shouted to let the civilians get out of the house in exchange for his surrender to save us,” another woman said.
Residents pointed out that 15 people, including five children and two pregnant women, were in the balcony of the house in front of the CVO outpost, either playing cards or just watching the game when the incident happened.
“We were all trapped and we did not have time to run away from the house as we all just dropped on the floor when the firefight started. We then slowly crawled towards the lower part of the house which was concrete but one of us was already injured,” said a source named Neri, referring to Leticia Bonghanoy Cabrera, 52, who was hit by a bullet in the right shoulder.
The women said an NPA medic gave first aid treatment to Cabrera, but they felt sorry for the soldier who yielded to the rebels to save them from harm.
Barangay chair Emelyn Bucio said around 30 other residents, mostly children, were near the basketball court and stage when the incident happened.
“Some of the soldiers were playing basketball with the residents while a lot of people were watching and children were in the area when the firing started. The soldiers tried to hide inside the barangay hall to avoid the NPA’s superior firepower,” Bucio said.
“One grenade landed on the stage where there were several children. That is the area where the 14-year old child was wounded,” a teary-eyed Bucio said, referring to Ellen May Hinampas Hiludo, who was wounded in the back.
The grenade did not explode, but the barangay official admitted she could still remember how the residents screamed as explosions and gunfire erupted.
“We have a small barangay with around 530 people. We know each other I cannot image what might have happened if someone was killed,” she said.
No children in school
On Tuesday morning, only 10 out of 120 pupils from kindergarten to grade six went to school.
“Only 10 kids came to school today. We went to the parents and asked around and they said most of the children are still traumatized and don’t want to go to school,” said Cecil Rana, grade 2 teacher at Alagatan Elementary School.
“We just asked those who came to go home, and we also encouraged the parents to let the children just play and enjoy the company of other children,” she said.
Gingoog City Mayor Marie Guingona expressed her concerns over the welfare of the children.
“We have sent a team of trauma volunteers to help the children cope with what they had been through. Right now this is a priority and we don’t want the children and other people in the community to be traumatized and remember this incident,” Guingona said.
In April 2013, former Gingoog mayor Ruthie Guingona, mother of the incumbent mayor, was wounded in an ambush staged by the NPA near Alagatan.
Three of the elder Guingona’s aides were killed in the attack.
All of those who hid in the house in front of the CVO outpost said they were grateful to the soldier who surrendered to the NPA to avoid harm to the civilians.
“For us he was a hero, he exchanged his life for our safety. He could have killed several NPAs from his vantage point above the CVO outpost but he did not fire back or even throw a grenade towards the house,” said Greg, who requested not to reveal his real name.
Gem said the soldier shouted: “Please, there are civilians. The civilians are in the house.”
“If the soldier fired back, my God, we all would have been dead. Thanks he did not fire at our location and even surrendered.
“It was a very frightening experience. I just left it all to God if he would take us that day. Then I asked for forgiveness in my prayer and for my children. I held on to my faith in God.”
“The incident happened at around 5:30 in the afternoon within the community after around 30 members of the NPA opened fired upon the troops unmindful of the presence of the civilians in the area. This lead to the death of one of our trooper, while the rebels dragged another soldier after he was hit in the right leg,” said Captain Jo Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Army 4th Infantry Division.
“The soldier that was killed in action is Cpl Nadir Bairulla. The trooper who was abducted by the NPA is Pfc Adonis Jess Lupeba. Private First Class Ronlie Ascaro was also wounded in action,” he said, adding the military condemned the attack which could have killed civilians or wounded more of them.
In a statement Sunday, Ka Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA-North Central Mindanao Regional Command said seven soldiers and one guerrilla were also wounded in the attack.
“The NPA seized a K3 light machine gun, an M203 grenade launcher, two ammunitions vests, three machine gun ammunition links, 12 40mm ammunitions and two military packs. The NPA made a fast and organized withdrawal, bringing the seized equipment and the captured soldier,” he said.
Juanito assured Lupebaa would be accorded humane treatment in accordance with international humanitarian law and released “as soon as conditions allow his safe and orderly release”.
“On the other hand, we regret the involvement of two civilians who were wounded in the firefight. NPA medics gave Cabrera first aid before she was brought to the hospital. The two are now reportedly out of danger. As soon as possible, we will extend financial aid two aid their medication,” he added.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the National Democratic Front-North Central Mindanao said it was “open to start negotiations for the safe and orderly release of the POW (prisoner of war) as soon as possible”.
“This is another gesture of peace, underscoring our call for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the NDFP and GPH so the people can understand the root causes of the continuing armed conflict in the Philippines and the means by which just and lasting peace can be achieved,” the statement signed by NDF-NCM spokesperson Cesar Renerio said.
“As of writing, we are yet to contact the local third party facilitators composed of the religious sector and peace and human rights advocates and the Local Crisis Management Committee headed by the Misamis Oriental governor regarding coordination and cooperation on the matter,” it added. (Erwin Mascarinas with a report from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)