Soldiers placed in isolation for possible COVID-19 infection after clash with Reds

Major General Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the 4th Infantry Division, checks the 15 firearms seized from NPA rebels in San Fernando, Bukidnon on Sept. 8, 2021. Photo taken Sept. 9, 2021 in Maramag, Bukidnon by FROILAN GALLARDO/MindaNews

MARAMAG, Bukidnon (MindaNews / 10 September) — An entire squad of Army soldiers was placed in isolation and subjected to antigen tests after authorities found that at least one of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels they fought possibly contracted COVID-19.

Two of the four rebels who were slain and nine others who were captured during an encounter in Bukidnon last Sept. 8 tested positive for the virus based on the antigen tests, Army and police officials said Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Barandon, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade said the squad figured in a close quarter battle with around 20 NPA rebels in San Fernando town, Bukidnon last Wednesday.

Barandon said four rebels were killed while nine others were captured during the clash inside a forest in Barangay Mabuhay.

He said an entire Army platoon which was involved in the military operation against the rebels was also placed under observation.

He said they have isolated the nine captured rebels who are still in their custody and are treating them as “direct contacts.”

He said the rebels would be subjected to RT-PCR tests by the municipal health office of San Fernando.

“The rebels in our custody are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms like coughing and fever. Doctors have been sent to assist them,” he said.

The Municipal COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force of San Fernando instructed the military officials to bury the slain rebels after the rapid antigen tests indicated that at least one of them was positive for the virus.

San Fernando police chief Major Jesse James Lasdoce said one of the wounded rebels confined at a local hospital was also positive based on the antigen test.

“The bodies were buried as we speak today after our IATF ordered their immediate burial,” Lasdoce told MindaNews.

He said the IATF also ordered the Army to conduct RT-PCR swab tests on the rebels in their custody.

“Our IATF is interested on the female rebel who is now confined in a hospital for gunshot wounds. She was the one who tested positive in the antigen test,” he said.

In its briefer on Sept. 9, the Department of Health Region 10 reported 393 new COVID-19 infections in Bukidnon, the highest in northern Mindanao.

The briefer also reported 28 deaths from COVID-19 in Bukidnon province out of the 59 deaths in the region.

“Roxanne”, an NPA spokesperson in Southern Bukidnon said they have implemented strict health protocols to prevent infections in their ranks.

“Those comrades who have gone down to the towns were subjected to several days isolation before they can rejoin their squad,” she said.

The rugged life in guerilla zones prevented NPA medical teams from securing medical supplies for COVID-19 except for antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines, she explained.

“We are resorting to herbal medicine if we have a case of COVID-19 infection in our ranks,” she said.

Barandon said three of the NPA rebels they captured were minors with ages ranging from seven to 15 years old.

He added the soldiers seized five AK 47 rifles, nine M16 rifles, one M14 rifle, a motorcycle and backpacks of medicine and canned food. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)