MILITARY helicopters in support of the Philippine National Police (PNP) have launched aerial attacks against elements of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Sagada, Mount Province that resulted in the capture of the rebels’ camp.
However, an indigenous group reported on Tuesday that the attacks allegedly destroyed livelihood farms and ancestral hunting grounds even as Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala clarified that no civilians were hurt or injured from the two bombing sorties initiated by military helicopters on request of the local police.
“They were guided air strikes coordinated with police troops on the ground. There were no civilian casualties,” Zagala said.
The encounter, he added, started on August 29 where two policemen were killed; the firefight ended the following day.
“It was a purely police operation,” Zagala pointed out, adding that the military only came into the picture on the second day after the police requested for aerial support.
He said the air strike caused undetermined number of casualties on the rebel side that led to the capture of their camp.
According to Zagala, the Maoist rebels should not have been in Mt. Province as it was declared a “national peace zone.”
Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) chair Piya Macliing Malayao said the aerial bombings caused collateral damage to the local residents, contrary to the earlier announcements of the regional police.
“They caused damages to the people’s land, livelihood and environment,” Malayao said. “They also caused immeasurable damage to the psychological and emotional stress on the people. How could police dare say that there are no collateral damages?” she added.
Malayao said that the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) reported that the bombings lasted seven hours. She claimed the group reported massive damage to the area’s communal hunting grounds, forest area, coffee and swidden farms, and watershed areas.
She said that the bombings affected many municipalities in the Cordillera region namely, Sagada, Besao and Bontoc. She said that the residents were from the Fidelisan, Dallic and Bontoc tribes whose livelihood were mainly farming and hunting.
Reports last week said that the aerial attacks in Benguet were launched by two police helicopters against a suspected rebel hideout on Friday morning. A television report also said the attack was also an operation in clearing landmines in the area. Two soldiers were reportedly killed over the weekend while three more were wounded as the fight with communist rebels continued. The Sagada local government suspended all tours to the Bomod-ok Falls because of the firefight. Residents were also warned to stay away from their farms to avoid the ongoing military operations.
KAMP said that air strikes should not be used in military operations to ensure that human rights and international humanitarian laws were upheld.
“It is disastrous to the welfare of the people,” Malayao said. “The local government must heed the human rights of its constituents as a primary concern and condemn these air strikes.”
WITH REPORT FROM TITUS EDISON CALAUOR