BACOLOD CITY—Gunmen hiding in a sugarcane field ambushed early Sunday a truckload of policemen and village guards, killing nine and wounding nine others in a hinterland village at La Castellana town, 28 kilometers south of here.
Officials said about 20 gunmen raked the victims’ truck with automatic fire in Barangay (village) Puso in the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon in Negros Occidental province, firing nearly 300 rounds of ammunition.
Killed were a policeman, three village peacekeepers, two village guards, two men and a woman who were heading home after attending a village dance when the gunmen struck at around 3:45 a.m. on Sunday.
Two wounded policemen returned fire but were forced to retreat under overwhelming fire, police said.
“Our policemen managed to return fire, but there were just too many gunmen firing away,” Supt. Celestino Guara, provincial police chief, said.
The military said the gunmen may have been communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.
A survivor, village peacekeeper Edwin Sevilla, said he heard the gunmen yell “Long live the NPA” before withdrawing.
One of the three police officers in the truck had received death threats over a land dispute, and his adversaries may have enlisted the help of the communist insurgents, Guara said.
Road blockades were immediately set up and government troops launched a manhunt for the gunmen, who fled toward a forest in the Kanlaon foothills.
Col. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, said investigation showed that at least 20 NPA guerrillas staged the ambush.
Patrimonio said there were incidents of arson in Barangay Cabacungan, La Castellana, before Sunday’s attack.
He said suspected NPA guerrillas burned a cargo truck and a sugarcane field in the area.
Patrimonio said the guerrillas had been monitored fleeing the hinterlands of Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, under pressure from sustained military operations in the remote areas of Isabela and La Castellana towns in recent months.
He said the NPA was also able to establish its influence in parts of the hinterlands of La Castellana.
But Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said investigators were also looking into illegal logging as a possible motive as the ambush site was near the place where a forest ranger was killed.
Investigators said 20 people, including three policemen, village peacekeepers and guards, were heading home in a truck after securing a village dance festival in Puso, a mountainous area near the boundary of La Castellana and Canlaon City, Negros Oriental, when the gunmen opened fire on the vehicle’s front to stop it.
Killed in the initial fire was Ricky Dingcong, the truck driver.
The gunmen then raked the truck with gunfire, killing PO1 Richard Canja; civilians Virginia Ordoñez and Lito Lucban; village guards Mario Ricablanca and Teotimo Esplegera, and village peacekeepers Ulysses Tamayor, Jonathan Mateo and Ramir Complesa.
PO3 Constantino Villagas and PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez were wounded but they returned fire. Outgunned and outnumbered, the two policemen ran for cover, La Castellana police said.
Wounded in the attack were Jason Oximar, Victoriano Donasco, Jamil Roma, Bonifacio Bayate, Cristituto Perolino, Jerry Lacuedo and Roger Behar.
Senior Insp. Gary Alan Resuma, La Castellana police chief, said two M16 rifles belonging to the slain and wounded policemen may have been taken by the gunmen.
Resuma said there were no reports of sightings of armed men in the area before the ambush.
La Castellana Mayor Alberto Nicor condemned the attack, which he described as “inhuman.”
Some of the victims may not have died outright but were finished off with shots to the head, as indicated by empty cases for .45 cal. bullets recovered from the scene of the attack.
Crime scene investigators recovered mostly empty cases for assault rifle ammunition.
Troops belonging to the 1st Scout Ranger and 11th Infantry Battalions, 6th Regional Public Safety Management and 5th Maneuver Platoon of the Negros Occidental Public Safety Company have joined the manhunt operations for the fleeing gunmen. With reports from Carmel Matus, Inquirer Visayas, and AP
Originally posted: 4:07 pm | Sunday, January 27th, 2013