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Clashes scare tourists in Sagada

La Trinidad, Benguet – Clashes between rebels and police in Mt. Province on Saturday, when two policemen died  an two others wounded, have driven away tourists from attractions here, particularly Sagada.

Robert Pangod, executive assistant to Sagada town Mayor Eduardo Latawan III, said at least two have cancelled their visit to the idyllic and laid-back mountain enclave.

Two rebel camps of New Peoples Army rebels were reportedly overran by policemen aided by the military Saturday,  when the  NPA was celebrating its founding anniversary celebration.

However,  fleeing rebels and reportedly some supporters were able to fire back and killed Police Officers 1 Jefferson Sari and Marcelo Kilasen while Police Officers 1 Romeo Fakat Jr., and Benido  Magan were wounded and brought to the Bontoc General Hospital for treatment.

The policemen were met with gunfire at Bandong Hill, barangay Dalican, Bontoc, Mt. Province’s capital town.

The location of the gunfight was named after Lt. Jose Bandong Jr., who died in the area on April 10, 1992 while leading government troopers in a gunfight with communist rebels.

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The area is within the territorial jurisdiction of Bontoc, Mt. Province’s capital town and not Sagada, Pangod said as he explained that the location of  Saturday’s firefight was a three-hour walk from Sagada poblacion.

Sagada is trying its best effort to maintain the town as a “peace zone”, a declaration since 1987, where both the military and the NPA are reportedly barred.

In September last year, policemen aided by Philippine Army troopers also allegedly overran a huge rebel camp in remote barangay Aguid, also in Sagada town.

The camp which was initially spotted by deep reconnaissance policemen was reportedly well-equipped and was used by the rebels as their training ground for the staging of a massive attack against government forces deployed in the province for peacekeeping duties.

During the initial assault  however, two policemen --- Police Officers 1 Primo Marcelo and Romel Sagot -- were wounded when they were met with heavy gunfire by communist rebels.

"Despite the realities,  we still make it a point to talk to both parties (NPA and military and police) not to fight within Sagada," Pangod said.

Such fighting is bad for the tourism business here, he said,aniticpating the heavy influx of tourists with the Lent and the summer vacation season.

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