Villagers flee as Army, NPA fight in Quirino
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Hundreds of villagers in remote communities of Maddela town in Quirino province have fled to avoid potential skirmishes between government soldiers and communist rebels there, officials said on Wednesday.
According to Rimel Tolentino, Maddela town administrator, about 30 families from Barangay San Martin have been staying at the town gymnasium since Monday, as soldiers pursue New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the village.
“It’s disheartening. We hope the situation gets better soon so they can go back home,” Tolentino said.
Other families have been staying with relatives at the Maddela town center.
Paulino Lunag, Barangay San Martin chief, said residents had seen about 150 fully armed men and women on Feb. 10 take positions on a hill in Purok 5, overlooking the San Martin Integrated School.
“Students got scared because there was just too many of them. They first thought these were Army soldiers but realized they were NPA rebels because of the armed women who were with them,” Lunag said.
On Monday, school officials suspended classes over fears that a firefight would erupt, he said.
On Wednesday, the military and local activists accused each other of sowing fear in the community.
In a statement, the activist group, Danggayan Cagayan Valley, claimed that the soldiers of the Army’s 86th Infantry Battalion frightened villagers in San Martin and nearby Barangay Villa Gracia and Villa Ylanan.
“The total war declaration of the military through the 86th IB has been sowing terror in the peaceful villages, for mere suspicion that there are NPA rebels there. The Army has spread the false news that fighting will break out there and that their villages will be bombed,” the statement said.
But the Army’s 86th IB denied this, saying the residents fled after their village was occupied by rebels.
“It was their first time to see these rebels and they were really afraid and sought our help. That is why we have deployed our troops there to provide security to the fleeing villagers,” said 2nd Lt. Carl Teaño, 86th IB civil military operations officer.
Army officials, however, did not discount the possibility that clashes would break out between government soldiers and rebels.
“We assure the residents that the military will respect human rights and that [there will be] no collateral damage on … lives and property,” Lt. Col Jose Vladimir Cagara, battalion commander, said in a statement.