A police officer was killed and nine others were wounded when communist rebels attacked a group of 95 policemen who were out on a routine morning jog in Tadian, Mountain Province, on Friday.
The communist New People’s Army’s Leonardo Pacsi command in the province claimed responsibility for the ambush in Sitio Kabunagan, Barangay Poblacion, Tadian, which occurred a little before 6 a.m. Friday.
The victims were part of a group of 120 police officers, 70 of them women, who were undergoing training, according to officials at Camp Dangwa, the Cordillera police headquarters.
They were members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB), except one who was from the Benguet Police Provincial Office.
A statement from the PNP Cordillera office said there were 95 PNP Scout trainees and four assistant instructors jogging in Barangay Kabunagan in Tadian town at around 5:45 a.m. when the attack happened.
Early reports said the rebels had taken hostages. A statement from the office of Vice President Jejomar Binay claimed that 24 policemen were missing, but the PNP clarified that everyone in the group of policemen trainees were accounted for.
Magno Udyaw, the Leonardo Pacsi command spokesperson, said in a statement that the rebels had “released a number of captured PNP combatants after they treated the wounded.”
The PNP said the policemen were all unarmed when the rebels attacked, killing police officer Denver Balabag and wounding nine others.
But Udyaw insisted that the policemen were armed, and that the rebels had “seized 14 high-powered rifles.”
‘Shocking and senseless’
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who has supervisory control over the police force, called the attack “shocking and senseless since it was carried out without any provocation.”
Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, PNP regional director in the Cordillera, denounced the “inhumane and desperate action” of the communist rebels, as “even our unarmed personnel are being targeted.”
In the statement, Udyaw said the NPA carried out the “swift attack” against the troops of the RPSB while they were “on bivouac toward Barangay Abatan in Bauko, Mountain Province.”
Why rebels attacked
Udyaw said the NPA had targeted the group because “these policemen composed one of the numerous batches of the RPSB who had been trained in counterinsurgency and urban warfare tactics since last year.”
He said some members of the special PNP unit that was ambushed in April in Asipulo, Ifugao, were “trainees in Tadian who were mobilized jointly with the Army’s 86th Infantry Battalion to conduct massive counterinsurgency combat operations in the towns of Tinoc and Asipulo in Ifugao.”
Last April 5, a patrol unit was ambushed in Sitio Nangkatengay, Barangay Namal, Asipulo, where a police inspector and two policemen were killed.
On May 27, police officers of Cagayan’s Special Action Force en route to Allacapan town for a medical checkup, set off a rebel landmine, killing eight of them and injuring seven others.
According to Senior Supt. Ruben Theodore Sindac, the chief of the PNP Public Information Office, Army troopers have already joined the police in counteroffensive operations against the NPA.
Sindac said the police officer victims were on a 45-day training program that exposed them to counterinsurgency actions of the military in the area.
“This is a sad incident indeed and it only shows that the NPA tactics do not distinguish combatants and noncombatants. It’s as if they just shoot for the sake of shooting or to satisfy their own end without regard for the military value of a target,” Sindac said.
He said communist insurgents have attacked medical missions, civic action activities, as well as civilians.
Sindac said the NPA command in northern Luzon “may be driving home a point or sending a message to the government” when they attacked the unarmed policemen.
Asked if there could have been a lapse in police intelligence, Sindac said it could be a “possibility” which the PNP would investigate.
He said that training exercises are not necessarily conducted only inside police camps.
“The organization will not be held hostage to this senseless threat or killing by the enemy,” Sindac said.
Police led by Senior Supt. William Viteno, Mountain Province police provincial director, are now pursuing the insurgents who carried out the attack.
Sindac said PNP units within Mountain Province and neighboring municipalities of Benguet province were now also on alert.
Magalong has directed all units in the Cordillera region to “take all necessary security precautions especially when moving in a group.”
Binay said the PNP should intensify its pursuit operations and conduct an immediate probe into the incident.
“I strongly condemn this treacherous attack. The victims were unarmed and based on the report I got, were doing their regular morning jog. Whoever was behind this should be brought to justice,” he said.
The wounded were Senior Insp. Meliinium Bantas, and police officers Jasmine Salve, Alexander Dulnuan, Junete Ngalawen, Jefferson Sari, Mitchell Malubon, Pawas Daketan, Robin Benito and Edison Waguis. Except for Waguis, who has been moved to Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, all the wounded are being treated at Luis Hora Hospital in Bauko.