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Troops hunt down South Cotabato rebels

KIDAPAWAN CITY – Government troops continue to hunt down communist insurgents in South Cotabato province where clashes erupted this week that left at least 10 people dead. Soldiers also seized a camp of the New People’s Army in Lake Sebu where clashes occurred between security and rebel forces.

At least 8 alleged rebels and two soldiers were killed in the battle, according to the military. But the NPA accused the military of killing civilians, mostly members if the indigenous T’boli tribe.

Efren Aksasato, a rebel spokesman, said soldiers from the 27th Infantry Battalion allegedly massacred villagers in Lake Sebu on December 3. “The 27th Infantry Battalion massacred civilian residents and not NPA members in a skirmish that took place in on December 3,” he said, adding, the victims were opposing mining operation in their ancestral domain.

The 6th Infantry Division said all those killed were NPA rebels who clashed with soldiers that left 2 infantrymen dead. Aksasato said those killed by soldiers were members of the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization, a group fighting for the tribe’s ancestral lands being claimed by the mining firm D.M. Consunji Holdings Inc. (DMCI) through the government’s Integrated Forest Management Agreement program (IFMA).

IFMA is a production sharing contract entered into by and between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the mining firm which grants DMCI the exclusive right to develop, manage, protect and utilize a specified area of forestland and forest resources therein for a period of 25 years and may be renewed for another 25-year period, consistent with the principle of sustainable development and in accordance with an approved Comprehensive Development and Management Plan.

“Reports said that at around 12:25 in the afternoon in December 3, forces of the 27th Infantry Battalion conducting military operations arrive in the community. The soldiers approached the house of the chieftain Datu Victor Danyan and opened fire. This prompted the residents, armed with 12-gauge shotguns and indigenous weapons, to fight back.”

“The firefight resulted to the death of eight individuals namely Datu Victor Danyan Sr., Victor Danyan Jr., Artemio Danyan, Pato Celardo, To Diamante, Bobot Lagase, and Mateng Bantal. A number were also wounded that includes Luben Laod and Teteng Laod, and a minor that was taken to a hospital,” Aksasato said.

He said rebel forces near the area responded to the military atrocities and rescued other civilians and brought them to safety away from government soldiers, but eventually NPA fighters engaged troops in a running gun battle. He said one rebel was killed in the clashes.

NPA Propaganda

But Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, strongly denied Aksasato’s accusations and branded them as propaganda.

“Ayon sa mga spin masters ng CPP-NPA-NDF, namatay daw sa shrapnel ng artillery sina Datu Victor Denyan. Dahil sigurado ako sa kakayahan ng aming forward observers at artillery team na pinamunuan ni 1Lt April Paduganan, isinama ko mismo si Datu Dandee Denian, ang pinsan ni Datu Victor para pasinungalingan ang fake news na kinalat para siraan ang 27th at 33rd Infantry Battalions. Nang nasupalpal ng ebidensya ang mga komunista, binago nila ang paratang at sabi ay minasaker ng tropa ang tribo. Sa muli, nasupalpal sila dahil nabaril at napatay ang dalawang sundalo sa naturang bakbakan. Nag-responde sina Datu Victor dahil inakala nyang namatay ang kanyang anak na miyembro ng Skwad Primera ng Platoon Arabo ni Ka Yoyo.”

“Dahil No Fire Area ang ipinag-uutos ko sa sentro ng komunidad, panay identified targets na okupado ng hukbo ng bandidong NPA ang aming pinatakan ng kanyon. Malayo ito sa bahayan nina Datu Victor. Wala ni isang crater ng 105mm (Howitzer) ang makikita sa paligid ayon sa fake news ng mga komunista. Ito pa, bumulagta sa naturang engkwentro ang isang kalbo na hukbo. Nang pinakuha ko kina Datu Dandee ang mga bangkay, nagtaka sila kung sino si Kalbo dahil hindi ito miyembro ng tribo. Pinakuhanan ko ito ng larawan para ipakita sa mga bagong suko na mga miyembro ng Platoon Arabo. Nang ipinakita ko ang picture ni Kalbo, ayon, tukoy agad nila: Si Ka George yan sir!,” Cabunoc narrated in his Facebook post.

Kalbo, he said, turned out to be the commander of the so-called Platoon My Phone of the rebel group operating in Sultan Kudarat. “Patay ang kilabot na kumander ng Platoon My Phone ng bandidong NPA sa Sultan Kudarat na si Ka George. Ang mga bandidong NPA ay ginawang sangkalan sa bakbakan ang kakaawang lumad na kanilang nalinlang para lumaban sa gobyerno. Mga komunista, di na uubra ang fake news ninyo. Buking na kayo sa mga lumad. Mag-alsa masa na sila kontra sa inyo!,” he said. Some of the wounded enemies who were captured by soldiers were also given emergency medical treatment and brought to hospital, according to Cabunoc.

President Rodrigo Duterte has tagged the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines as a terrorist organization following the collapse of the peace talks due to the rebels’ continued attacks on government and military and even civilian targets. (Mindanao Examiner)

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