Cebu News

Town Hall, Police Station Taken: Rebels briefly seize Albuera

- Jose P. Sollano, Norvie S. Misa -
At least 50 suspected New Peoples Army rebels briefly took over the municipal hall of Albuera town in Leyte early Friday night, blowing up the power supply and plunging the whole town into darkness before ransacking the police armory and fleeing with a large cache of government issued firearms.

Two of the six policemen supposed to be on duty at the time were hogtied but were otherwise left unharmed.

The attack came just hours after a similar number of communist guerrillas struck at the town of Claveria in nearby Masbate, killing five policemen in a clash and three civilians in the crossfire.

In the attack on Albuera, some 15 kilometers south of Ormoc City, the two on-duty policemen were caught completely by surprise and did not resist. They were hogtied as the rebels went through the armory and carted away 21 M16 Armalite rifles and nine handguns of varying calibers. The raiders also stole radio equipment from both the police station and the municipal hall as well as the cellphones and wallets of the two disable policemen.

Of the four other policemen supposed to be on duty at the time, police chief Senior Inspector Rodolfo Lomot completely missed the action, having left for home earlier in the afternoon as had been his practice on Fridays.

One policeman was out of the station for supper while two others scampered away to safety when the rebels struck.

" Hapa, hapa. Armas ray among tuyo. Mga NPA mi ( Get down, get down. We are only after guns. We are NPA ) the policemen quoted one of the rebels, believed to be the leader, as shouting as the raiders barged into the station in darkness.

The rebels were armed with at least one 60-caliber machine gun and several M16 Armalite rifles.

PO2 Jackson Sevilla and SPO2 Diosdado Papellero were both eating dinner inside the station and were caught by surprise, leaving them no chance to either fight back or escape.

Another policeman, SPO1 Jaime Catublas, was having dinner outside the station and was never in harm's way.

Two others, SPO1 Teodulo Jorda and PO2 Bobby Matugas, managed to see the rebels coming and fled through the back door.

Sevilla later told Roberto Dejon, a reporter of a weekly newspaper based in Ormoc, that he and Papellero were caught by surprise and failed to react quickly enough.

Policeman Matugas said he was about to resist when he saw Jorda running, so he ran too.

Sources said the station received a threat of a raid last December but that this was apparently ignored.

Residents at the town proper said they noticed that some of the rebels used two cream and brown colored vans and a red passenger jeepney in their getaway. Others appeared to use some women and children as shields as they fled on foot toward the mountains.

Military officials said the rebels set up barricades at the northern and southern approaches to the town.

Soldiers from several military units in the area were quickly sent to pursue the rebels.

Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Jefferson Omandam said the raiders were probably from the Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee known to be operating in the area.

The 8,000-strong NPA is the armed unit of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist insurgency since 1969.

The rebels last month vowed to step up attacks against the government and on January 2 a senior police officer and two others were killed in a clash in Sorsogon. Then came Friday's attacks in Masbate and Leyte.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government have stalled since 2004 over demands by the rebels for the government to urge the United States to take the group off its list of terrorist organizations. - with AFP

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