NAGA CITY—Suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels launched a series of attacks in Masbate province on Sunday that killed an Army soldier and wounded three other military men and at least seven police personnel.
The communist rebels first attacked the police station in Mobo town, located inside the municipal hall compound and about 9 kilometers from Masbate City, at about 2:30 a.m., which left five policemen wounded.
They then exploded landmines in the road traversed by convoys of separate groups of responding policemen, wounding two policemen, and ambushed a group of responding Army soldiers that led to the death of a soldier and the wounding of three others, police and military officials said Sunday.
The slain soldier was identified as Pfc. Mariel Semolava by Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan, commander of 49th Infantry Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Milagros, Masbate.
The wounded soldiers were Pfc. Henry Maisog, Pvt. Ryan Brayuga and Pvt. Jomar Erediano; while the injured policemen were identified as SPO1 Arturo Mendoza, PO2 Antonio Tidon, PO2 Bernardino Altarejos, PO1 Judy Villamor, PO1 Marwin Marcellana, PO1 Baldwin Huyo and PO2 Ernie Concepcion.
Senior Insp. Leus Anselmo Prima, Mobo police chief, said there were only eight police personnel, including him, in the station when the attackers, numbering about 30, arrived at the municipal compound at around 2:30 a.m.
“They (attackers) posed as members of the Philippine Army who were in combat operation in our area when they came to the police station and said they were just coordinating (with the police). They were even wearing military camouflage uniform,” said Prima.
The police personnel in duty asked for their team leader but they could not answer, said Prima. Then the suspected rebels immediately fired upon the station.
“It was fortunate that our station was located on the second floor—an elevated area. This gave us advantage although we were outnumbered,” said Prima.
He said five of his men—Mendoza, Tidon, Altarejos, Villamor and Marcellana—were wounded during the varying stages of the hourlong firefight but all were now in stable conditions.
Prima said the attack might have been meant to get back at the police for the rebels’ failed attack on the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police stationed in Barangay Lalaguna of the town.
“They unsuccessfully launched an attack against the SAF there about a month ago. So they turned to us, knowing that our number here would make us a soft target,” said Prima.
Senior Supt. Thomas Seminiano, the Masbate provincial director who himself survived the landmine explosion while he and his group were on their way to Mobo, said the suspected rebels were not only in camouflage uniform but also used high-powered firearms including an M-60 machine gun and an M-203 grenade launcher when they attacked the police station.
The suspected rebels then withdrew in the direction of Sitio Busay and Angbu in Barangay Poblacion after failing to overrun the police station, said Prima.
Two hours later, at about 4:30 a.m., operatives from the Special Task Force Masbate and the Masbate Police Office, led by Senior Insp. Dennis Balla and SPO1 Francisco Ramos proceeded to Mobo town to serve as reinforcement, Seminiano said.
But upon reaching the bridge of Sitio Matungaw, in Barangay Tugbo in Masbate City, a landmine exploded. A shrapnel wounded PO1 Huyo.
Then at about 6:45 a.m., Seminiano and security escorts also went to Mobo town. But while on their way from the town of Pio V. Corpus to Masbate City, a landmine and a grenade went off in Barangay Poblacion District 1 in Mobo. A shrapnel wounded PO2 Concepcion.
All of the wounded policemen were brought to Masbate Provincial Hospital for treatment, said Seminiano.
At about 10 a.m., a military vehicle loaded with soldiers who were sent as reinforcement to Mobo were also attacked by suspected rebels while the truck was traversing a road along Barangay Maingaran in Masbate City.
Semolava was immediately slain in the firefight and the wounded soldiers were brought to Masbate Doctors’ Hospital for treatment, said Pacatan.
Supt. Wilson Asueta, Philippine National Police Bicol spokesperson, said the rebels who staged the series of attacks were believed to belong to the Jose Rapsing Command.
Police sources said the attack on the town police station might just be a ploy or a diversionary strategy as the real target of the attack was the responding police and military convoys.
Meanwhile, another bomb attack by unidentified armed group suspected to be rebels took place in front of radio station dyME, destroying the concrete fence of the radio station. No one was reported injured by the blast, said Asueta.