Cops repel NPA attack in Mati; 5 dead
MATI CITY—Policemen bravely fought and repulsed dozens of communist rebels in a bloody but futile attempt to overrun the police station here on Sunday night, authorities said.
At least five people—three soldiers and two rebels—were killed in a gun battle that saw the attackers setting off an improvised bomb hitting an Army unit out to reinforce the beleaguered policemen, said Senior Supt. Jose Carumba, Davao Oriental police chief.
Some 30 rebels disguised as soldiers arrived at the Mati Police Station in Barangay (village) Madang shortly after 7 p.m. and immediately barged into the two-story building and started firing, police said.
Police Officer 1 Albert dela Peña, desk officer, was seated at the front lobby when a truck and three passenger vans pulled up outside and men in military fatigues brandishing rifles came out and rushed to the station.
“They shouted at me to drop to the floor as several men with weapons ganged up on and frisked me. I was then ordered to guide them to the upper floor but I was able to maneuver and head straight to the office of our chief of police where I found a rifle and joined in the ensuing firefight,” dela Peña told the Inquirer.
The façade and the interior walls of the building bore bullet holes as the firefight raged for more than 20 minutes, with the rebels being forced to withdraw in disarray as one of their comrades was killed and several others wounded.
Fighting was intense as policemen tried to prevent the attackers from massing in the upper floor of the building, said Chief Insp. Benito Recopuerto, Mati City police chief.
Three soldiers were also killed and four others hurt in a landmine explosion set off by the New People’s Army (NPA) against a convoy of reinforcing troops from the 701st Infantry Brigade, said brigade commander Col. Bienvinido Datuin.
Recopuerto and several of his men were responding to a police complaint elsewhere in the city so he was not inside the station when the attack happened.
Upon being notified by text that his men were under fire, Recopuerto and his companions returned to the station using an alternate route as rebels have set up numerous blocking forces.
They then reinforced their colleagues and joined in driving away the rebels, a police officer present during the attack said.
“(The rebels) had a sniper at a vantage position in the barangay hall some 200 meters away so we had to move very carefully,” said the police officer who requested anonymity.
“I was off-duty at the time and loitering with colleagues at the kitchen behind our station when shots rang out. I grabbed a rifle and joined the firefight,” he said.
PO3 Babao, the lone policeman hurt, is now being treated for a bullet wound in the hand at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, said Carumba.
Police recovered the truck and three vans used by the attackers.
The truck, believed hijacked from Pantukan town, in Compostela Valley, was loaded with 31 backpacks containing handguns, grenades, improvised explosives and medical supplies.
Authorities said they have received reports of possible attacks by the NPA since December so an augmentation force from the provincial public safety company had to be deployed at the station, which proved helpful in defending the facility.
Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said she “was saddened by the incident, but consoled by the fact that not a civilian was harmed and our (security forces) were able to thwart the attack.”
In Manila, Philippine National Police spokesperson Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. lauded the Mati policemen for their preparedness to the emergency.
“They were able to respond quickly to the situation. Both the Davao provincial police office and the military were ready. The rebels who initiated the attack were unable to seize any equipment,” he said in a press briefing in Camp Crame on Monday.
He noted that in past NPA attacks on police stations, there were many casualties on the government side. “This incident shows that we are ready and we are communicating with our communities for a faster response to such attacks,” he said.
Pursuit operations against the rebels have continued, Datuin said, with the military deploying armored personnel carriers. Frinston L. Lim, Inquirer Mindanao; with a report from Julie M. Aurelio in Manila