AROUND 256 families were forced to flee their homes after the soldiers clashed with suspected communist rebels in Barangay Sinampongan, Aloran, Misamis Occidental, Monday, March 19.

Members of the 10th Infantry Battalion (IB) under the 1st Infantry Division were conducting combat operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) for alleged extortion and forced recruitment activities when they encountered some 20 guerrillas.

The military said the encounter started around 3 p.m. and lasted in the evening. The gun battle spread to nearby villages.

Major General Roseller Murillo, 1ID commander, said the clash forced residents of said barangay and other adjacent villages to leave their homes.

"In performance of its mandate of protecting the people against all threats to their safety, the 10th IB has been conducting focused military operations against the communist NPA terrorists. While acting on information given by concerned citizens...the 10IB encountered 20 armed communist NPA terrorists," Murillo said.

The town disaster office, the police, and the military are now collaborating to assist the displaced families.

Charmaine Tadlas, spokesperson of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Northern Mindanao, said the town's local government unit has yet to request aid from their office.

However, they are ready to extend help should there be request from the town officials.

Tadlas said they have ample supply of family food packs and P1 million standby fund.

She said the evacuees are temporarily staying at the five evacuation centers in the town.

"Sa report nga atong nadawat, padayon pa gihapon nga naay gaaabot nga mga evacuees as of this morning (Based on the report that we received, more evacuees are still coming in as of Tuesday morning)," Tadlas said.

The spokesperson said their office will send their stress debriefers and play therapists for children if the town officials opt to request for them.

"Depende sa request sa LGU kay we have trained stress debriefers and play therapists para sa mga bata nga affected sa armed conflict (It depends upon the request of the local government unit because we have trained stress debriefers and play therapists for all affected by the armed conflict)," she added.

Superintendent Lemuel Gonda, spokesperson of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Northern Mindanao, said the evacuees should wait for the signal of the military if they can already return to their respective communities since clearing operations are still ongoing.

Gonda said the town police are ordered to implement target hardening and security measures to maintain peace and order in the affected communities.

"Forested area man gud naa diha ug naay presence sa mga NPA (The affected villages are forested area where NPAs are present)" Gonda said.

He said PRO-Northern Mindanao's red teams are also instructed to check the readiness and remind the town police on the standard operating procedures to ensure that the station will not be taken over by any armed enemies.