Army denies NPA killed 8 soldiers in North Cotabato clash
The Army on Monday denied the claim of the New People’s Army (NPA) that eight soldiers were killed in a gunbattle in North Cotabato over the weekend.
“There were no casualties in that encounter between the soldiers and the lawless armed men. I don’t know where they got that information. It’s a hoax,” Lt. Col. Harold Argamosa, commanding officer of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion, told INQUIRER.net by phone.
In Manila, Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao also denied the reported casualties. “We did not receive such report. How will the benefits of the soldiers supposedly be processed if there was no report of casualties in the first place?”
NPA Southern Mindanao spokesman Rigberto Sanchez said on Sunday that eight soldiers and one NPA rebel were killed in a firefight in Sitio Lokatong in Barangay Biangan in Makilala town, North Cotabato.
The rebels also claimed that the military was provoking them despite a ceasefire and ongoing peace talks.
The supposed incident coincided with the third round of peace negotiations in Rome between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Argamosa said they merely responded to reports that a “lawless armed group” harassed a truck driver in a bid to extort from a construction company. An intermittent firefight on Saturday and Sunday between government forces and communist rebels followed, which left one rebel dead.
The soldiers were able to recover three-high powered rifles, three improvised explosive devices, 15 backpacks with personal belongings and two handheld radios.
A separate statement from the Army’s 10th Infantry Division confirmed that based on the investigation of the Philippine National Police, the weapons recovered from the encounter were from the NPA.
Argamosa said the claims of the communists were “a total lie.”
“Why will we hide that kind of information? Maybe they had more casualties,” he said.
He also denied that they were provoking the communist rebels to fight. “We are not singling them out. We are just keeping our mandate to help and maintain the peace in the community,” Argamosa said.
Asked if this would affect the peace talks, Argamosa said this was an “isolated incident.”
“This does not represent the situation of the entire Philippines. It just so happened that this occurred while the peace talks are ongoing,” he said.
But the military officer said that while he believed in the peace negotiations, there were incidents in other areas in the recent past that must be tackled, such as the burning of buses and construction equipment by suspected communist rebels.
“Of course there is no other way than to talk peace. It has hindered peace and progress (for) almost five decades now,” he said. CBB/rga
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