FOLLOWING a deadly clash between government forces and New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Escalante City, the number of evacuees has climbed to at least 700 people.
Lieutenant Colonel Emelito Thaddeus Logan, 79th Infantry Battalion (79IB) commander, said they counted at least 109 families or 329 individuals were evacuated to the Paitan Elementary School in Barangay Paitan.
An additional 91 families or 371 individuals, meanwhile, fled to the Libertad Elementary School in the neighboring Barangay Libertad.
Logan said the evacuees were mostly residents of Sitios Tabunok and Mina-oco in the said barangay.
The 79IB commander said the military, the local government of Escalante City, and the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental provided relief goods and free medical consultation to the evacuees.
The displaced individuals were also given free stress debriefing and were encouraged to end their support to the NPA rebels.
Logan said the displaced families will remain in the evacuation centers until the area is declared safe and cleared of any insurgents.
Meanwhile, Escalante City Mayor Melecio Yap Jr. declared a suspension of classes in the affected areas until government forces have finished their clearing operations.
Earlier on Saturday, August 31, at least 5 NPA insurgents were killed following a gun battle with elements of the Philippine Army 79th Infantry Battalion (79IB) in Escalante City's Sitio Morino, Barangay Paitan.
During the exchange, rebel forces allegedly exploded several anti-personnel mines before withdrawing to nearby Sitio Sampinit in the same barangay.
Three soldiers, identified as Corporals Homer Aniversario, Ronald Tuhao, and Jerald Caluyo were slightly wounded and were immediately rushed to the hospital for treatment.
Government forces also seized an anti-personnel mine, subversive documents and lecture materials, a hammock, an NPA cap, and the rebels' personal belongings.
No civilians were hurt in the gun battle and the army has since sent in more reinforcements to the area to chase down the fleeing rebels.