BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — Five soldiers were killed and two others were wounded yesterday during pursuit operations against communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who attacked a mining complex in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental late Friday.
The rebels reportedly burned several vehicles and bunkhouses of the employees of Philex Mining Corp. in Sitio Omas, Barangay Camindangan.
Troops from the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade launched a pursuit operation and caught up with the rebels, leading to a firefight that lasted for an hour and left five soldiers killed and two others wounded, the military said.
The slain soldiers were identified as Cpl. Aljun Francisco, Pfc. Charlie Magne Jomento, Pfc. Jan Granzo, Pfc. Ramer Aguilardo, and Pvt. Benjie Tolog.
The two wounded soldiers were identified as Pfc. Romel Agustino and Cpl. Ovimar Latiza.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the rebels, who also took away the firearms of the slain soldiers.
Philex, in a statement, said there were no casualties from among their employees following the NPA attack.
“It is unfortunate that this incident happened and we are unaware of the reasons why the rebels committed such acts of violence,” Philex said.
Last Friday’s raid on Philex followed by yesterday’s fighting came several days after Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta, military commander in Western Visayas, declared openly that almost half of politicians and candidates running in the May 13 elections in the region admitted to giving in to the NPA’s extortion demands.
One senior officer said Negros-based NPA rebels are now supporting their comrades in Samar financially.
“This is because the insurgents have been amassing millions in extortion money from the landlords and politicians in Negros,” the senior officer said.
The rebels apparently stepped up their attacks following the government’s declaration that the peace talks are going nowhere.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government would not be threatened by the statements from Communist Party of the Philippines’ founder Jose Maria Sison ordering the NPA to increase offensives throughout the country because of the supposed termination of the peace talks.
Lacierda said the increased activity from the NPA was because of the election period.
“What they are saying is not new, what is this intensifying operations that they are saying? It’s election time and they extort money from politicians, they have a permit to campaign. Maybe every week or every two weeks that we have our briefing there is a question on NPA violence. It never stopped. So far as the defense is concerned, we will always defend our citizenry,” Lacierda said.
He said the Armed Forces has been getting a lot of reports about extortion activities from the NPA, particularly in Sorsogon, Bulacan and Samar. – With Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Rhodina Villanueva