CAGAYAN DE ORO (Updated) -- Fresh fighting between government troops and the communist New People's Army (NPA) erupted Thursday morning in the mountain village of Talisayan, east of Misamis Oriental.
Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the encounter happened at 10:21 a.m. Thursday, June 16, while government troops of the 51st Infantry Battalion "were conducting support to law enforcement operation."
The government troops encountered the rebels in the outskirts of Barangay Macopa, Talisayan, a coastal town 98 kilometers northeast of Cagayan de Oro City.
Martinez said the firefight lasted for 20 minutes before the NPA rebels withdraw, leaving some personal belongings, including fully loaded magazines of AK47.
He said pursuit operations are ongoing.
Meanwhile, bakwits (evacuees) from Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong town in Misamis Oriental said on Thursday that the military and the 300 displaced lumad (indigenous people) families should enter into a written agreement which would point out the troops’ limitations in entering their community.
Some of the 300 families went into the Provincial Capitol grounds to air their demand regarding the military’s stay.
Tagtabolon secretary-general Nenita Helogon said they would also ask assistance from Misamis Oriental Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano to mediate with the agreement.
"Ang sulod unta sa agreement nga dili na sila makadugay ug bisita sa among sitio kay mahadlok kami nga maapil sa away sa NPA ug military," Helogon said.
Helogon isn’t opposed to military visiting their community but staying longer is a different story and maintaining the 500-1000 meters away distance from the community must be observed by the troops.
"Kasabot man kami nga mo-bisita sila kay ila gud kining trabaho pero ayaw pud ng madugay sila," Helogon said.
Erlinda Misayao, a lumad mother, said her family members are falling ill since they are not used to their new environment.
About 47 families or 230 individuals are taking refuge at Lagonglong municipal gym after fleeing from their houses on June 5, because of the presence of the 58th Infantry Battalion troops and alleged harassment.
Misayao is worried with her crops and livestock left in their homes.
"Basin unya mamatay imbis mao ra among panginabuhian. Okay na untana karon magtanum kay ning-ulan na pero ning-abot pud ning mga army," said Misayao hoping that they could return back home since it is difficult to stay away from their houses.
This is the fourth time since 2015 that lumads from Sitio Camansi were displaced due to militarization.
No deal made
Martinez insisted that the lumads and Army did not have an agreement last year.
"What we discussed was the legitimacy of the operation and what sanctions will be given on the alleged violations of protocols in entering a community for both AFP and NPA. However, there are still situations in the area that needs to be addressed," Martinez said.
He said the troops deployed in Camansi will stay put until it is insurgency-free amid the mass evacuation of residents who fled their homes for fear of getting caught in crossfire between the NPA and state forces.
“So long as there is the presence of the NPA, we cannot leave the area,” Martinez said.
Villagers from the Sitios of Camansi and Tapol, in Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong town, moved away from their homes after the soldiers from the 58th Infantry Battalion arrived in their communities a few days ago.
No Carhril violations
Martinez said the presence of the government soldiers in the area did not violate the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law (Carhril) as he maintained they are just following their mandate based on Republic Act (RA) 8551, giving the military the lead role in counterinsurgency.
RA 8551 states that the Philippine National Police (PNP) will, through information gathering and performance of its ordinary police functions, “support the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] on matters involving suppression of insurgency, except in cases where the President shall call on the PNP to support the AFP in combat operations.”
He said the AFP has knowledge that the NPA is conducting extortion activities in the area prompting the deployment of troops from the 58IB.
“It’s the same as the PNP, they will not enter an area if there’s no criminality there. In the same manner that we are given that mandate through RA 8551, [to suppress insurgency]. Once the NPA is suppressed, only then the PNP can go in and enforce the law,” Martinez said.
“I believe we did not violate any law but we are just performing our mandate. The mere presence [of the soldiers] is not a violation, in fact, we are just complying with the mandate given to us, based on RA 8551,” he said.
He said any military action they have conducted is a product of deliberate planning taking into consideration the legal aspects of their operations before deploying their troops to the area.
Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, 4ID spokesperson, has said the military “won’t abandon its duty and will answer the call of the people” especially when residents in Camansi and Tapol had reported of “NPA atrocities” in their area.