Twenty-four people were killed and 11 others were wounded in a clash from Wednesday until Thursday between government troops and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who raided a logging company in Surigao del Sur, the military said Friday.
Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Jr. said a report from the 4th Infantry Division showed 13 from the government side were killed in action (KIA): Eight Army troopers from the 58th Infantry Battalion, one from the Philippine National Police, two civilian auxiliaries (CAA), and two security personnel of the Surigao Development Corp., a logging company.
Ten more soldiers and a policeman were wounded.
4ID spokesman Maj. Michele Anayron said 11 NPA rebels were also killed in the clash.
Brawner said at around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, heavily-armed rebels under the NPA Front Committee 30 raided the detachment of the 4th Surigao CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA) Company assigned to SUDECOR in the vicinity of KM 31 at the boundary of Calatagan, San Miguel town and Pakwan in Lanuza town.
The rebels took hostage 11 SCAA members and some SUDECOR workers, after which they burned all the equipment of the logging company.
At around 930 a.m., elements from the 23IB and 58IB augmented by the logging firm’s security personnel responded to the incident. On their way to the area, however, a landmine explosion hit the two vehicles carrying the reinforcement team at KM 18 in Barangay Calatagan.
The explosion resulted in the death of the eight soldiers and five others from the government side.
Anayron said additional troops were sent to the area to pursue the rebels. Sporadic clashes ensued which lasted up to 7 p.m. Thursday, resulting in the death of 11 NPA rebels.
Brawner said the SCAAs and SUDECOR workers who were held hostage were also eventually released.
Chief Superintendent Lino Calingasan, director of the CARAGA Regional Police Office, said the militiamen manning the detachment were able to call for reinforcement when they realized they were outnumbered by the raiders.
“They burned SUDECOR equipment such as bulldozers, chainsaws, and wreckers and also took hostage some of the employees of SUDECOR and even disarmed the security guards,” said Calingasan, quoting a report from the field.
The fatalities were identified as Corporals Gartin Plaza and Mohamad Kair; Privates First Class Kenneth Bactong, Dennis Garfin, Jose Belascuan and Charlito Pico; Privates Charles Orit and Traul Paquibot; Police Officer 2 Rodulfo Randy Medrano of the 1405th PNP Provincial Moble Group; and security guards Dionesito Luces, Edmundo Careño and Hilarion Agudo.
Those wounded were PFC Joebert Cabuyao, Rollie Altaya, Roy Dagatan, Joendel Hulgansa; Privates Arvie Melida, Robinson Aninag, Rico Macabangon, Dennis Ordinan, Joel Natividad, and Janio Delos Santos; Senior Police Officer 1 Luis Gorrero Alcasar and retired Colonel Tomasito Grafe, chief security officer of SUDECOR.
Grafe was also wounded when undetermined number of rebels strafed his service vehicle two months ago in the same area.
“Reports also indicate that the military were outnumbered by the rebels,” said Calingasan, adding that nearly 100 rebels operating in the province and nearby areas launched the attack.
Reports revealed that the attacking rebels were composed of members of the NPA’s Front Committee 30 and Front Committee 31 which are known to be operating in the region.
Amid the casualties, joint police and military operatives stood their ground and engaged the rebels in a fierce gunfight that lasted until the following day.
At least 11 communist rebels were killed based on military reports but only one cadaver from the enemy side was retrieved from the clash site.
Calingasan said all the employees who were held hostage were already freed while pursuit operations are now being conducted against the fleeing rebels.
The SUDECOR has been the target of communist rebel attacks to force the company to pay revolutionary taxes to the rebel movement. The latest was two months ago when at least seven people, including civilians, died when the rebels ambushed the firm’s bus which was transporting civilians. (With a report from Bong Reblando)