NPA rebels were killed in gun battle, says military

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LUCENA CITY, Philippines—The spokesman of the military’s Southern Luzon Command on Sunday denied accusations by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that its New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were unarmed when they were killed in Thursday’s encounter with Army soldiers in the hinterlands of Juban in Sorsogon.

“That’s their rehashed propaganda line. On the contrary, they were all heavily armed and engaged our soldiers in a half-hour exchange of gunfire before they were killed,” said Lt. Col. Neil Anthony Estrella in an interview at Solcom headquarters here.

Estrella said the rebels, including National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) Bicol spokesman Greg Bañares, “were killed in a legitimate encounter.”

“Those who are saying the slain communist terrorists were mercilessly massacred are lying. They refuse to admit the NPA rebels are losing strength,” he said.

On Saturday, the CPP insisted in a statement the slain rebels were unarmed even as it appealed to human rights groups, church groups, independent lawyer groups and the United Nations to conduct an investigation.

Eight rebels were killed in the clash, including Frankie Joe Soriano, better known by his pseudonym Ka Greg Bañares.

Also killed in the firefight were Pehing Hipa, alias Ka Miloy; Ted Palacio, alias Ka Gary; David Llunar, alias Ka Rey; Romero Añonuevo, alias Ka Nene; Ailyn Calma, alias Kevin; and William Villanueva Jr., alias Ka Jay.

“Being unarmed and unable to put up any form of resistance, Ka Greg, Ka Nel and Ka Gary should have been arrested and detained as prisoners of war in accordance with provisions of the Geneva Conventions governing protagonists rendered hors de combat. They were, instead, mercilessly massacred by the soldiers of the 31st Infantry Battalion,” the CPP said.

The CPP demanded that the soldiers and officers involved in the clash be held liable for violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and pertinent protocols of the Geneva Conventions.

But, citing official military reports from Bicol, Estrella said the soldiers recovered five M16 rifles, two M203 grenade rifles, three laptops and improvised explosive devices from the slain rebels.

He said the soldiers were tipped off by concerned residents on the presence of the armed rebels in the area.

The data from the seized laptops revealed “highly classified and sensitive information” on the operations of NPA rebels in Bicol, particularly in Sorsogon, he added.

“Ka Greg’s group was not only a propaganda and information unit, it was also involved in several tactical operations against police and military forces,” said Estrella.

He said the military had identified Bañares on Friday through photos provided by rebel returnees and confirmation by his former comrades.

The CPP vowed to avenge the deaths of their comrades. It ordered all units of the NPA, particularly in Bicol, to carry out more tactical offensives against the state security forces.

Estrella said the military was ready for any retaliation by the communist guerrillas.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, public affairs office chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the military was not rejoicing at the deaths of the eight ranking NPA leaders.

In fact, he said, the military leadership was “saddened” upon learning that most of the slain insurgents had been recruited to the communist movement when they were just students.

“We’re not celebrating. We’re just doing our duty to protect the citizenry,” Zagala told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, another NPA rebel was killed on Saturday morning, according to Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, acting spokesman of the 9th Infantry Division. Penky Quentas Boticario was identified through an ID found in his belongings after the encounter.—With a report from Shiena M. Barrameda

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