A GROUP of suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels attacked a supposed “insurgent-free” town in Misamis Oriental Tuesday, March 21.
According to 4th Infantry Division (ID) spokesperson Joe Patrick Martinez, about 20 NPA rebels attacked the military detachment in Tama village, Magsaysay town, and fired about five to 10 times.
Martinez said the rebels were 200 to 300 meters away from the detachment and were not able to cause injuries or casualties to nearby residents and soldiers.
The town has not been attacked since 2015, the year it was declared by local government leaders and the military as NPA-free.
Martinez said the rebels attacked the area to discredit the declaration.
“Hindi lang discredit, kundi guluhin yung peaceful area, ibalik yung takot ng mga tao (Not only discredit, but also bring back the disorder and fear of the residents), but unfortunately, they cannot do it in a large scale, katulad ngayon (like now), nuance harassment na naman kasi hindi sila maka-infiltrate sa lugar, mabilis mag-report ang mga tao diyan (what they did was only classified as nuance harassment because they cannot infiltrate the area, if they do, they will be reported by the residents immediately),” Martinez said.
A local government unit, with a recommendation from military officials, can declare a certain area “conflict-manageable,” “peaceful and ready for development,” or “insurgency-free” following careful observations and deliberations.
Martinez said Misamis Oriental is a conflict-manageable area meaning the army force can contain the conflict within a certain area, and government forces can pressure NPA rebels and keep them “on the run.”
The 4ID spokesperson said they are also studying if the NPA violated the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law after it indiscriminately fired upon a community.
“Ang kanila lang is indiscriminate firing, kasi nga wala silang fix target, to whom it may concern lang, kasi kung makita lang nila na nandoon ang detachment, kahit wala silang makitang tao, paputukan agad nila yan (What they did was indiscriminate firing because they do not have fix target, they just fire as soon as they see a military detachment), unmindful of the civilians,” Martinez said.
He added the soldiers secured the area, but only empty shells were recovered.
Before this incident, there have also been a number of attacks launched by the NPA.
On March 20, three military detachments were simultaneously harassed by the rebels in Quezon town in Bukidnon, Sitio Lantad in Gingoog City, and Sitio Kawali, Balingasag town in Misamis Oriental.
On the same day, rebels torched three boom harvesters and one skidder owned by Del Monte Philippines Inc.
For Martinez, the series of harassment were done in preparation for the NPA's anniversary this March 29, where they are expected to report their accomplishments to the public.
“Uhaw na uhaw sila sa accomplishment reports, ito yung ipagmamalaki nila kung ilan na ang napatay nila, civilian man o police and military, ilan na ang nasunog nila na equipment, ilan na ang nakolekta nila through extortion, ilang child warriors na ba ang na-recruit nila, ilang sumusuporta na sa kanila dahil natatakot (They're thirsty for the accomplishment reports, they are bragging how many they have killed, be it civilians or police and military, how many equipment they have burned, how much did they collect from extortion activities, how many child warriors did they recruit, how many are supporting them because of fear),” Martinez said.
Misamis Oriental Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano said the lifting of its travel advisory to tourist spots in the province will remain in effect amid these clashes.
He said the public will have to trust the certificates given by the police and army, which shows that the province is peaceful, adding that tourists might just have to be cautious in doing a tour around the province.
“I stand firm with the lifting of our travel advisory, kung bawion nila ayha nato ibalik, but wala man, (if they will ask to issue the advisory again, then we will, but as of now, they haven't asked us) so we will continue to promote Misamis Oriental as a peaceful province based on the certificate they gave us,” Emano said.
The governor added he has already ordered the continuation of projects, which was stopped after he issued the travel advisory.
If residents will be caught in crossfire, Emano said, he is prepared to support possible evacuees.