Tourists barred amid clashes in southern Iloilo’s uplands
ILOILO CITY — The military has advised tourists to avoid visiting hinterland villages in three towns in the southern portion of Iloilo province following a series of clashes between government troops and communist rebels.
Lt. Col. Sisenando Magbalot, commander of the Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61IB), said tourists should avoid the mountainous areas in the towns of Igbaras, Miag-ao and San Joaquin as a precautionary measure.
These areas in southern Iloilo are popular summer destinations for hiking, mountain trekking and spelunking.
Magbalot said civilians could be displaced by government offensives against the New People’s Army (NPA).
“We are asking them to avoid especially the areas where the encounters have happened and adjacent villages because of ongoing operations,” Magbalot told the Inquirer.
He said government troops had been conducting operations to disrupt rebel activities, especially during the commemoration of the NPA’s 50th founding anniversary on March 29.
Troops under the 61IB, with the help of tracker dogs, have been pursuing rebels after four clashes since March 17.
An NPA rebel was killed in a clash at Barangay Alimodias, Miag-ao, on Sunday, the fourth firefight in Iloilo and Antique provinces in a week.
The 61IB reported a clash with rebels at Barangay Maulangan in Igbaras on March 17, and an encounter at Barangay Osorio I in San Remigio, Antique, on March 19.
On March 20, a soldier was wounded in a firefight at Barangay Lacay Doldol, Igbaras.
In a statement, the NPA’s Coronacion Chiva “Waling-Waling” Command belied the military’s report that a clash erupted in Igbaras on March 17.
The rebel command said none of its members were in the area and denied that three residents — Roberto Elamparo and brothers Ramon and Ruperto Enar — who were arrested by soldiers, were rebels.
Reports said government troops recovered improvised explosive devices from Elamparo’s house.
Last week, the police filed criminal complaints in the Iloilo provincial prosecutor’s office against 10 suspected rebels, including the three residents of Maulangan village.
The complaints include illegal possession of explosives, multiple attempted murder and direct assault.
But Joselito Echiverria, village chief of Maulangan, maintained that those arrested were farmers.
“Anybody who wants to know who these three are can come to our village and ask the residents. We will tell you that they are not NPA rebels,” Echiverria told the Inquirer.
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