By NITZ ARANCON
NEW People’s Army rebels encamped at an outlying village in Opol, Misamis Oriental, as a diversionary tactic in order to ease the mililtary pressure on guerrillas in Gingoog City, the commander of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion said on Thursday.
Lt. Col. Francis Carandang noted that the Opol evacuation started two days after government troops overrun a NPA camp in Barangay Bantawan, Gingoog City.
The Army battalion commander said soldiers took control of the rebel camp in Gingoog after a 20-minute exchange of firepower with some 100 Maoist guerrillas on Saturday.
Carandang said the fierce encounter resulted in the killing of a rebel and the wounding of three others. He gave no names, and claimed that rebels carried their wounded comrades with them.
He said soldiers found a back pack and other personal belongings at the NPA camp.
On Monday night, evacuees from Barangay Nangkaon in Opol town started arriving at the town center where they sought refuge due to the presence of heavily armed rebels in their village.
This week, the town council of Opol declared Nangkaon and three of its neighboring barangays to be under a state of calamity as a result of the evacuations.
“We think that the NPA did this in Opol in order to ease the pressure on rebels in Gingoog City that resulted from the ongoing military operations,” Carandang said.
Opol’s disaster-risk reduction management officer, Romel Lonoy, said the Army met with Opol Mayor Maximino Seno this week and asked for two weeks to clear the outlying villages.
Carandang said troops from the 58th IB have started security operations in Opol’s hinterland barangays in response to the evacuations and reports of rebel sightings.
But he belittled the rebel forces in Opol, saying he doubted reports that there were at least 200 armed guerrillas in the town’s outlying barangays. “If there is an armed group there, I doubt if there are 30 of them there.”
Joining the military in securing the Opol villages are the Regional Safety Battalion from Camp Alagar and a group from the Misamis Oriental police’s provincial public safety company.
Carandang said the government troops were committed in providing civlians protection, and that the military would allow residents to return to their villages.
“It’s the call of the local government when it would allow the people to return to their respective barangays. As for us, our security operations there would continue to make sure no armed group would disrupt the lives of people there,” Carandang said.