ZAMBOANGA CITY: Government forces have stepped up its operations against the communist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) in Zamboanga Peninsula with the capture of two of its senior leaders in Pagadian City while about one hundred families fled their homes following sighting of armed men along the Iligan-Bukidnon area.
Officials said troops and policemen tightened security in the region and put up additional checkpoints to preempt any rebel attacks.
The Philippine National Police, backed by Army soldiers captured Leonardo Jacotin and Rosario Tabanao in their hideout in Barangay Balangasan over the weekend. Troops also recovered a fragmentation grenade, a caliber .45 pistol with magazine loaded with bullets, 50 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 10 assorted identification cards and 17 cell phones.
Brigadier General Jacinto Bareng, commander of the 102nd Infantry Brigade, said the two communist leaders have standing warrants of arrest for multiple criminal charges, including murder.
He said Jacotin is the NPA’s logistics officer for western Mindanao and Tabanao is the finance officer.
“The NPA top leaders are responsible for robbery, large-scale extortion activities, proliferation of illegal firearms and explosives, and murder cases in the area,” he said.
Also on Sunday, about a hundred families in Sitio Libandayan, Malagsum along the Iligan-Bukidnon Road evacuated to Poblacion Rogongon after a number of unidentified armed men believed to be NPAs were spotted in the vicinity.
Barangay chairman Rady Pugoy said people became afraid after learning about what happened to the team leader of a Philippine Army patrol, Sgt. Edgar Andal, who was killed in an NPA ambush last week.
“Because of fear the residents left their homes without bringing anything,” said Datu Lanelio Sangcopan, a local Higaonon leader. “We ask the city government to send a larger security force to Rogongon to repulse unwanted armed elements that threaten the peace and security in our area,” he added.
Senior Supt. Leony Roy Ga, Iligan City Police Office director, said the presence of NPAs in Rogongon still poses as threat to the residents. He added that Mayor Celso Regencia has taken steps to enhance the security in the area so that residents can immediately return to their homes.
The city government and non-governmental organizations distributed food and water to the families at the evacuation center.
Rogongon, with 35,555 hectares of forest and farming lands, is one of the largest barangays in Iligan City. It has an estimated population of 5,198 composed mostly of Higaonon indigenous people.
Meanwhile, police intercepted a group of suspected NPA rebels at a checkpoint in Nasugbu, Batangas following an encounter with the Philippine Air Force’s 730th Combat Group at about 8:18 a.m. on Monday.
Capt. Melchor Durante, spokesman for the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said policemen in Nasugbu flagged down a jeepney carrying 12 individuals, however, three of them escaped leaving only nine were under the custody of the police.
The Provincial Police Office in Batangas identified the arrested as Jocelyn Cabadin, Jenelyn Bayani, Leonardo de los Reyes Jr., Carlos Sanosa, Orlan Cabadin, Josefino Castillano, Pheping Sacdalan, Roberto Hernandez and Mark Anthony Banaga.
Durante said the three rebels who managed to escape are being pursued.
He added that civilians in the area reported that NPA members were hiding at the time within the encounter site at Barangay Utod in Nasugbu near the checkpoint which is about three kilometers away.
Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade, reported that the Air Force’s combat group discovered an NPA encampment on Sunday.
He said the NPA camp is under Kumander Honda who is behind the encounter in Batangas City last September.
The arrests and the encounter came days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he would issue a proclamation categorizing the NPA as a terrorist group.
with TED KHAN R. JUANITE AND DEMPSEY REYES