NPA rebels flee Batangas City camp after clashes
SAN PEDRO CITY — The Philippine Army said it had captured a training camp of communist rebels deep in the forests of Batangas City, after gunfights that drove hundreds of families to evacuation centers and forced 15 schools to suspend classes.
Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, on Monday said more soldiers were being deployed to run after the rebels. Checkpoints had been set up while security in sea ports was tightened around Batangas City.
The clash between members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force started around 9 a.m. on Sunday in Mt. Banoy in the village of Talumpok Silangan, about an hour and a half travel by land from Batangas City.
Col. Arnulfo Burgos, head of the Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade, described the encounter site as part of a mountain ridge that “you’ll probably ask yourself: ‘Were there really people living in there?’”
“But yes, there were,” he said.
Parayno said the military learned about the NPA camp from the community.
Residents reported seeing army helicopters and bombings in the upland area on Sunday evening, forcing hundreds of families to leave their homes.
Jerson Sanchez of Batangas City’s public information office said 50 families sought shelter in the the village of Cumba, while 87 families in the village of Talahib Pandayan.
The city government had also declared a two-day class suspension in 15 elementary and high schools in the villages of Tibig, Cumba, Talahib Pandayan, Talahib Payapa, Sto. Domingo, Maruclap, Conde Itaas, Talumpok Proper, Talumpok Silangan, Haligue Silangan, Haligue Kanluran and Sto. Niño.
Parayno said military planes unleashed three rockets on Sunday “in the isolated” area of the mountain as rebels were believed to had booby trapped the area with explosives.
“They are trying to resurrect their group,” Parayno said of the rebel unit. He said government soldiers found materials for making explosives which were a sign the area was training ground.
The Army reported at least one rebel slain in the gunfight and an undetermined number of rebels wounded.
The lone fatality has yet to be identified and extracted from the clash site as of Monday afternoon.
In a separate interview, Arnold Evangelista of the rights group Karapatan-Batangas said the family of John Ray Mendoza, a member of activist youth group Anakbayan, feared that their son was the fatality.
Evangelista said Mendoza was in the vicinity of the villages of Cumba and Talahib Pandayan for the past four days for a youth activity.
“He could not be contacted anymore since the encounter,” Evangelista said.
Parayno said government forces clashed with at least 16 communist rebels, led by a certain Jethro Dionisio, believed to be an alias.
“That (number) is already big considering it’s in Batangas,” Burgos replied when asked how the rebel presence warranted an air strike.
The government has repeatedly taunted the NPA for its dwindling force in that part of the region.