KIDAPAWAN CITY -- Two members of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were killed while four others, three of them civilians, were injured when at least 15 fully-armed members of the New Peoples' Army (NPA) sprayed them with bullets.

The police were conducting traffic inspection along the national highway in Makilala town in North Cotabato around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Senior Inspector Joyce Birrey, chief of the Makilala police, identified the slain HPG traffic enforcers as PO1 Raul Pablo and P03 Rufino Sumugat.

Wounded were SPO2 Ponciano Pahkiat, also of the HPG Cotabato, and civilians identified as Jeremias Ranon Jr. and Policarpio Villarica, both residents of Cagayan de Oro City, and Aragon Napthalia, of Kidapawan City.

Birrey said the HPG members had just flagged down motorists Ranon and Villarica, both onboard a Honda XRM motorcycle when the rebels -- all clad in military uniform and armed with high-powered firearms attacked them.

The rebels were onboard a black and grey KIA Bongo Frontier with plate number JEJ 224 they used as a get-away vehicle.

The police officers, witnesses said, were able to return fire. "But the highway patrol men were outnumbered so two of them died on the spot while one of them was seriously hurt," said Cecilia, a resident of barangay Malasila.

Cecilia said she was outside her house when the incident happened.

"I was so afraid. So when I heard shots I have to take cover. What I saw afterwards were bodies sprawling on the cemented road," Cecilia recounted.

Contrary to earlier reports, the attackers were members of the NPA.

"They were not members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. They told us they are NPAs operating in Davao del Sur. They spoke Cebuano, others were natives," according to Ramon del Corro, owner of the Kia Bongo Frontier that the rebels used in their broad daylight highway assault.

Del Corro, his son Kenneth, 30, and helper Jun Villamor, 61, were held hostage by the rebels along the boundary of Makilala in North Cotabato and Bansalan, Davao del Sur, Wednesday.

Del Corro said that a day before the attack, two unidentified men rented his truck for P14,000 to deliver some 200 rubber seedlings to Bislig, Surigao Del Sur.

Del Corro drove the truck, with his son Kenneth and helper Villamor onboard, and was headed towards Davao-Tagum road when ordered by two men to proceed to Toril district, Davao City, to get the seedlings.

Hours later, he said he was again ordered to change route and instead head towards Davao-Makilala highway.

When they reached the boundary of Davao del Sur and North Cotabato, the still two unidentified men commanded them to disembark.

They were later surrounded by some 30 armed rebels -- three were women -- that identified themselves to be NPA rebels.

Del Corro said they were released around 7 a.m. Thursday and immediately went to the police station in Makilala town to report the incident.

"We later found that the NPAs used our truck to attack the traffic enforcers manning the highway. We didn’t expect this. We don't know this would happen," said Del Corro.

The Cotabato Provincial Government expressed grief and resentment on the incident.

“This happened at a time the province is celebrating its 98th foundation day. We were so saddened and mourned for the death of two highway patrol officers and the wounding of their colleague and two innocent civilians,” said Jessie Ined, focal person of Cotabato Governor Lala Mendoza on health concerns.

The attack, Ined said, came a day after the whole new team of Senior Inspector Senajon of the HPG-Cotabato paid courtesy call to the governor at the provincial capitol complex in Barangay Amas, this city.

The governor, he said, had already issued a marching order to Sr. Supt. Cornelio Salinas, police provincial, to probe deeper the incident, arrest, and eventually file charges against those responsible for the attack. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)