POOR intelligence operations led to the New People's Army's (NPA) successive attacks in Negros Occidental that claimed the lives of six people, including four soldiers, in recent weeks.
Colonel Leopoldo Galon, deputy commander of the Army's 303rd Infantry Brigade based in Murcia town, said in a telephone interview Monday that "obviously, there was a lapse in our intelligence network."
Admitting that there was also a lapse in the conduct of patrol operations, Galon said there was a "glaring disparity" between the sightings of rebels and the combat operations they conducted.
In a span of three weeks, the rebels carried out five atrocities, killing six people, including four soldiers and two farmers.
The first attack on May 1 in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso ended the life of Corporal Nelski Marino, a member of the 62nd Infantry Battalion assigned in Barangay Bato, Sagay City.
Five days later, members of the 79th IB conducting security operations at Sitio Malangsa in Barangay Talacdan, Cauayan encountered eight rebels.
The next day, about 15 rebels attacked the property of Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III at Sitio Iscuala in Barangay San Agustin. The shootout injured a security guard. The rebels disarmed the guards.
On May 14, the NPA rebels hit Sitio Carbon in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso, and killed three soldiers and wounded two others.
Members of the 62nd IB responded to the reported presence of 10 armed men, but they were ambushed on the way to the area.
The latest attack on May 22 at a farm workers' bunkhouse in Barangay General Luna, Sagay City, claimed the lives of two farmers and injured two others. The rebels also captured a paramilitary man, but later released him.
Galon said the Army needs to "step up" their operations and combat patrols, and intensify their intelligence network to avoid similar incidents.
He added that they also have to improve their information network and strengthen their relations with the community.
Galon said they have to focus on the people and address the root cause of the dissent because these problems are being exploited by the enemy.
These are just "recovery efforts" of the NPA to show their strength, launching tactical offensives and hostile actions against the civilians, he added.
The rebels want to send a message that they still have a strong foothold in the province, Galon said, but "they are not superior in strength."
'Don't be complacent, overconfident'
For his part, Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who condemned the attacks, said the Army and the police should intensify their security efforts, and should not be complacent and overconfident.
"They must always be on alert and be prepared like the Boy Scouts," he said.
The governor also called on the rebels to stop the atrocities and urged them to return to the folds of the law.
He said the government has programs to help them improve their lives.
Police identify perpetrators
Meanwhile, the police have already identified some of the 50 perpetrators who attacked the farm workers' bunkhouse in Barangay General Luna, Sagay City on Sunday.
Inspector Adrian James Albaytar, deputy chief of Sagay City Police Station, said they showed to the witnesses photos of 20 suspected members of the NPA and that they have identified at least 10 of them.
Albaytar said they are still looking at land dispute as the motive of the attack.
The victims have acquired ownership of the land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp), but members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers were also claiming ownership as well.
He said there were previous incidents involving the NFSW group who are "aggressive" in claiming the land.
There were also reported violence and threats in some localities, but the incidents were not recorded at the police station, he added.
He added there was an incident where the group were involved in a "firefight" against a Carp beneficiary.
Albaytar said they are still investigating if the NFSW group has a connivance with other groups, including the NPA.
He also said they are checking the backgrounds of the victims as the killing maybe due to personal reasons.
Killed were Jose Pios, 51, of Barangay Sta. Fe, and Dionesio Ebañez, 44, of Barangay Malasibog, all in Escalante City. Both were farmer-beneficiaries and roving guards in the area.
Also wounded was another roving guard Jovito Lutrago and Sunny Respondo, a member of the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (Scaa).
Scaa member Alex Garcia, who responded to the scene with Respondo, was held captive when the NPA retreated. He was later released in Escalante City. (With reports from TDE)