THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied Monday that eight of their soldiers were killed in a firefight against the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in North Cotabato last Saturday.
“There were no casualties in that encounter between the soldiers and the lawless armed men. I don’t know where they got that information. It’s a hoax,” said Philippine Army 39th Infantry Battalion commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Harold Argamosa.
For his part, Army spokesperson Colonel Benjamin Hao also denied the reports.
“How will the benefits of the soldiers supposedly be processed if there was no report of casualties in the first place?”
On Sunday, NPA Southern Mindanao spokesman Rigberto Sanchez said one of their member and eight soldiers died during a clash along Sitio Lokatong in Barangay Biangan in Makilala town, North Cotabato.
He said the clash started after they were provoked by the government troops in the area.
However, Argamosa belied the claims, saying that the government troops just responded to reports of the residents that a lawless armed group harassed a truck driver in order to extort money from its employer, which is a construction company.
He said the military operation led to the firefight from Saturday until Sunday, resulting in the killing of an NPA rebel.
Argamosa said recovered from the encounter site were three-high powered rifles, three improvised explosive devices, 15 backpacks with personal belongings and two handheld radios, which according to police investigators belong to the rebel group.
“Why will we hide that kind of information? Maybe they had more casualties,” he said.
“We are not singling them out. We are just keeping our mandate to help and maintain the peace in the community,” he added.
Argamosa said what happened was an isolated case and would not affect the on-going peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“This does not represent the situation of the entire Philippines. It just so happened that this occurred while the peace talks are ongoing,” he said.
“Of course there is no other way than to talk peace. It has hindered peace and progress [for] almost five decades now,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)