CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 22 May) – Eleven communist rebels were killed in a series of encounters in Andap Valley, a rebel stronghold in Surigao del Sur, the military said on Thursday.
Capt. Al Arnold Pueblas, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division said the soldiers seized firearms and laptops believed to be owned by top New People’s Army leaders in Mindanao during the clashes.
Pueblas said the government soldiers numbering around 800 suffered no casualties in the clashes that started last May 14 and ended on Wednesday.
“This is a major victory for us. Since I was a young lieutenant, Andap Valley is known as a major stronghold for the NPA,” he said.
He said top NPA leaders like Myrna Sularte alias “Malaya,” party secretary of the NPA North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee, and Alvin Loque alias “Joaquin Jacinto,” spokesperson of the NPA Komisyun sa Mindanao, were believed in the camp when it was attacked by the soldiers.
He said an informant guided the soldiers through a safe path that led to the back of the camp which could house 100 NPA fighters.
“The rebels did not expect the soldiers to attack from their back. They fought back but they were caught completely by surprise,” Pueblas said.
He said the bodies of the 11 rebels were found along the northerly route taken by the rebels to escape the dragnet.
He added the soldiers captured five firearms, two laptops, one overhead projector, flash drives, external hard drives, two anti-personnel mines, hand grenades, bandoleers, assorted ammunition and magazines, handheld radios, personal belongings, assorted food and medical supplies.
Major General Nemesio Gacal, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division said he was happy over what he called the second setback inflicted against the NPA rebels in Caraga region.
Last May 13, another military operation launched in nearby Agusan del Norte province killed four NPA leaders and 11 other rebels.
Andap Valley, also called Andap Valley Complex, is an area that straddles the towns of San Miguel, San Agustin, Marihatag, Cagwait, Tago and Lianga.
Since the martial law years, the area has been the site of several clashes between government forces and the NPA that have caused evacuations and human rights abuses blamed on security forces.
In a statement issued on 21 July 2018, the anti-mining group Caraga Watch linked military presence in Andap Valley to mining interests.
The group identified the five companies with interests in the area as Benguet Corp. of the Romualdez family, Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corp., Chinese-owned Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., ASK Mining and Exploration Corp. and CoalBlack Mining Corp.
“These mining companies have been raring to operate since 2015 but were constantly prevented because of the refusal of the Lumad communities to sign the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) agreement,” the statement said.
“The purpose of the militarization of Andap Valley Complex is clear: to remove any opposition against the entry of coal mining companies into the ancestral lands of the Lumad,” it added.
According to the Department of Energy website, the operating permits granted to these mining firms cover areas within Andap Valley Complex, the towns of Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza and Tandag City, as well as Sibagat, Bunawan and Trento towns in neighboring Agusan del Sur.
The DOE launched on July 27, 2015 the 5th Philippine Energy Contracting Round for the exploration of potential coal and petroleum areas in the country, which includes Surigao del Sur. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)