GOVERNMENT forces are still driving suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members away from four hinterland villages in Opol, Misamis Oriental, a military official said.
Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division spokesperson Captain Joe Patrick Martinez said that clearing operations are ongoing in Barangay Limonda, Cauyonan, Nangcaon, and Tingcalan, where suspected rebels were sighted since last week.
Martinez said the military could not ascertain how long would it take to clear the areas.
"It's a matter of time, we can't say a week or two kasi ang pinakatinitingnan natin is safety ng lahat at ang importante walang collateral damage (because we are really looking into the safety of the people and most importantly, not getting any collateral damage)," Martinez said.
Martinez added that they have to be careful in the operation as they consider the large presence of civilians in the area.
Martinez also clarified that the rebels seen in the four villages could not have been more than 50.
"This is their diversionary tactics kasi for the past days nagkaroon sila ng casualties, maraming nahuli, nakuhanan ng armas at explosives so kailangan nilang i-ease out ang pressure (For the past days, they had casualties, many were arrested, firearms and explosives were confiscated so they have to ease out the pressure)," Martinez said.
Martinez, however, commended the local government for its initiative to evacuate some 500 individuals away from possible danger.
"We commend the local authorities na ilayo muna sa kapahamakan ang kanilang constituents (in keeping their constituents from danger) but for the meantime we can't say that it is safe to go back while the presence of NPA is still there sa communities," Martinez said.
"Kailangan nating i-manage ang situation up to the point na pwede na masabi nating okay na (We need to manage the situation up to the point that we can say that it’s okay)," Martinez added.
Opol town mayor Max Seno said he has received word from soldiers on the ground that the NPA rebels may have already left the four hinterland villages of the town.
"Wala silay nahuli ug nakita nga group pero ga-monitor pa gihapon sila in case nagtago ra sa mga sundalo ang mga armado (They didn’t see any groups but they are monitoring in case the armed groups are hiding from them)," Seno said.
Seno said he would only advise the evacuees to go back to their homes once he gets the assurance from the commander of the Army's 58th Infantry Battalion and the village leaders that the communities are already safe.
As of Wednesday, August 9, 124 families or 570 individuals have sought shelter at Opol’s evacuation site, said Engineer Romnel Lunoy, chief of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
Seno said the figure could increase as more people have expressed their intent to stay at the town’s temporary shelter until their communities are cleared of armed insurgents.
Lunoy said the first wave of evacuees arrived on Monday afternoon, August 7.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 11, 2017.