Treachery reared its ugly head yesterday as communist rebels exploited the series of earthquakes that hit Luzon and Eastern Samar to launch strikes against troops preoccupied with helping those affected by the disaster.
Clashes erupted between government forces and communist rebels at the border of two towns in North Cotabato Tuesday morning, prompting thousands of civilians to flee to safer grounds.
The firefight between elements of the Philippine Army’s (PA) 19th Infantry Battalion and communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the boundary of Antipas and Magpet towns also left two soldiers and a civilian slightly wounded.
Six soldiers were also killed and six others were wounded in a clash between government troops and communist rebels on the outskirts of Calbiga, Samar.
The PA said the NPA detonated a landmine when they spotted patrolling soldiers in the upland village of Beri, some 12 kilometers from Calbiga town center.
Samar Island is considered one of the strongholds of armed rebels due to its densely-forested mountainous areas and high poverty incidence.
The military is maintaining a heightened alert level against possible attacks by communist rebels in the aftermath of the tremors.
“We are mindful of the security considerations in this regard, owing to the fact that the terrorist NPA take advantage of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) personnel performing humanitarian missions. We cannot, in this respect, but take appropriate steps to secure our personnel. We would not want a repeat in our past experiences of our personnel treacherously waylaid by this callous and merciless terrorist CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines),” AFP spokesman Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
Arevalo, however, said the AFP does not see any serious concern on the matter of security vacuum. “Our rescue groups, while deployed and engaged in an ongoing incessant search, rescue and retrieval operations in Pampanga, do not adversely affect our judicious deployment of troops and the efficacy of our security operations,” he added.
Rescue teams ready
The military’s Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) has alerted two platoons from its disaster response task units (DRTU).
“In Metro Manila, JTF-NCR alerted two platoons of DRTU with complete equipment. The AFP has disaster response task groups that are pre-organized and pre-tasked for possible deployment in any eventualities of disaster,” he said.
Arevalo cited the ongoing efforts of the military to train civilian rescue groups and procure equipment that would enhance its disaster response readiness.
“Included in our training are those that had experience with other armed forces in the region to ensure interoperability and readiness,” he said.
Arevalo said the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command (NolCom), led by Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, had deployed a composite team of disaster rescue groups of 67 personnel, consisting of seven officers and 60 enlisted personnel, to help in the ongoing search-and-rescue operations in the collapsed Chuzon Supermarket in Porac, Pampanga.
Salamat has also instructed all of NolCom’s disaster response rescue units to be on standby-alert for rescue operations.
Meanwhile, there will be no change in troop positioning in Luzon despite Monday’s earthquake.
“Troops committed to SAR (search and rescue) in Porac (Pampanga) are not directly engaged in ISO (internal security operations), so there will be no changes in current troop disposition and location,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said.
Captain Jose Marie Molina, the Arakan town police chief, said injured soldiers Corporals William Agno and Jerome Sarayno were airlifted by Huey helicopters from the battlefront in Sitio Tiwayan in Barangay Badiangon of Arakan to a local medical center.
A civilian farmer, Jonel Bayaan, was hit by stray bullets when the firefight erupted at about 9 a.m. Tuesday and is now confined at the Amas provincial hospital in Kidapawan City.
Molina said the rescue vehicle of Arakan that carried the wounded soldiers were also ambushed by communist rebels in Sitio Anuling, Barangay Badiangon at about 9:30 a.m. that triggered another firefight.
Molina added that the rebel group has suffered many casualties as evidenced by bloodstain in their escape routes.
He said personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are now on the ground and started providing emergency relief assistance to affected families.
“The total number of displaced families is still being validated,” he said, adding that sporadic fighting continued overnight in the periphery of Arakan and Magpet.
Group lists NPA coddlers
Former NPA rebels, who are now members of the peace group Liga Independencia Filipina, urged the public to refrain from supporting candidates who are “allies” of communist terrorist groups.
Members of the peace group made this call as they staged a rally at Mendiola Bridge on Wednesday, condemning opposition senatorial candidates and other politicians being endorsed by the Makabayan bloc, which is branded as a legal front of the CPP-NPA.
“It’s no longer a secret that the Makabayan bloc is a legal front of the NDF (National Democratic Front). With millions of cash paid in exchange for their endorsement, they seemed to support NDF in sowing terror,” Liga Independencia Filipina spokesman Ka Dario Bolivar said in an interview.
The peace group is referring to Otso Diretso opposition bets Mar Roxas, Bam Aquino, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc and Erin Tañada, along with Grace Poe, Serge Osmeña III and Neri Colmenares.
Bolivar explained that the Makabayan bloc has long deceived Filipinos by claiming that it has been fighting against poverty, yet its members are the ones working to prolong it to make way for the 50-year old revolution, which he claims is generating huge money from local politicians and overseas sponsors.
“Let’s not vote for them and their partylist allies,” he added.
The group also said the NPA only impedes the country’s progress, as they urged Filipinos to be “one with the government” instead.
With Hananeel Bordey, Kathleen Mae Bulquerin and Elmer N. Manuel