Eighty families were evacuated when about 50 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) attacked a para-military detachment of CAFGU (Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit) in Tampakan, South Cotabato on Friday morning.
A source of The Manila Times from the military estimated that about six to 10 rebels were killed when two 105 mm howitzer started bombarding the area. The rebels managed to retrieve their wounded comrades and fled at the height of heavy fighting.
Colonel Benjamin Leander, head of the Philippine Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, believed the attackers are from the NPA’s 73 District Guerilla Unit of the Far South Mindanao Command front.
An evacuee identified only as Bert said prior to the skirmishes, they already sighted the presence of the group who surrounded the mining site of Sagittarius Mines Inc.(SMI) which is heavily guarded by government soldiers.
The SMI had temporarily shut down its operation after the provincial government imposed its environment code that prohibits open pit mining.
Senior Supt. Frank Alvero, police provincial director, said they have received intelligence report about the NPA’s threat to carry out attacks in various parts of South Cotabato “and on Friday they attacked at 6 in the morning as we made our effort to reinforce and help the 27th IB,PA joining the counter operation against the NPA,” he said.
Two Huey helicopters of the Philippine Air Force transported Army and police reinforcements to the site during the height of the fighting in sitio Tablu, Barangay Liberty.
The area can only be reached by motorcycle or by foot since there is no access road.
The heavy firefight lasted for almost seven hours and families in the area were forced to abandon their houses for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
In spite of the heavy exchange of gunfire no casualty or injury was reported on the side of the government soldiers.
Meanwhile, a voice message from certain “Ka Efren” of the NPA Far South Mindanao command dispatched through a local radio claimed they were responsible in the ambush of Private Albino Bahian 3rd, a member of the Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT)-2, who was killed during the encounter with the NPA Guerilla Front 73 in Barangay Hinalaan, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat last week.
He said the ambush done by their comrades was in response to the information they received that soldiers deployed at the SMI mining site have been serving as company guards and receiving salaries from the mining firm.
Alvero denied the allegation saying the soldiers were only safeguarding the area after the NPA’s threat to attack police and military check points and outposts.
Central Mindanao was placed under heightened alert status following a series of ambushes and scale of hostilities perpetrated by the NPA rebels in various parts of the region.
A business tycoon who requested not to be named said eco-tourism business has also been affected by wide scale atrocities by the NPAs in the region.
JERRY N. ADLAW