By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
and SHIELA MAE BUTLIG
THE military yesterday brushed off claims that a section of a diversion road linking Claveria and Gingoog in Misamis Oriental has become impassable due to fierce clashes between government and communist rebel forces yesterday.
“There was no encounter near the highway. It happened in the mountains,” said Capt. Leoden Bajado, civil military operations spokesperson of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion.
Bajado called it a disinformation effort on social media concocted by communist rebels “to project that there is a widespread conflict.”
The military and the New People’s Army exchanged firepower in Sitio Aligodon in the outlying barangay of Mat-i in Claveria town at around 6:30 am yesterday. At least one soldier was wounded.
“The wounded soldier is now recuperating,” said Col. Roy Anthony Derilo, 58th IB commander.
He said the encounter involved 45 soldiers and about 25 NPA rebels.
Derilo said it was the NPA that attacked, a move that was believed to have been planned two days earlier.
“Naa sa ibabaw nga bahin ang mga NPA, saba kaayo sila sigi storya, gapamahaw sila, wala ka atraka ug maayo akong tropa kay patungas man ning maong area,” said Derilo.
Derilo said the area in Sitio Aligodon has been cleared even as he assured that it Mat-i is now safe.
Bajado said the military is checking if the NPA suffered losses, noting that soldiers saw traces of blood on the ground.
He said the retreating rebels left behind some personal belongings like a backpack, a landmine, a grenade, a bandolier, and a magazine. No firearm was recovered from the site.
Bajado said the rebels belonged to the Sentro de Grabidad and Manuel “Tamtam” Jabagat Command of Guerrilla Front 4B of the NPA in Misamis Oriental.
He said the rebels wanted to regain the trust and support of communities now supporting the government’s peace efforts.
He said some 136 NPA members and sympathizers have surrendered to the government under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-Clip) since 2017.
For this year, over 80 communist rebels have returned to the fold of the law so far, he added.
“We expect that number (surrenderers) to increase in the coming days,” Bajado said.
Bajado said the cooperation of people in rural communities helped the military in going after rebels operating in the provinces of northern Mindanao, particularly in Misamis Oriental.
He said residents in hinterland villages in Misamis Oriental have been coordinating with the government armed forces to curtail the movement of the NPA.
Yesterday’s clash, he said, was an offshoot of villagers’ vigilance and desire to rid their place of insurgents.
Bajado said villagers were no longer reluctant in contacting the military whenever there are NPA sightings in their communities.
Meanwhile, capitol spokesman Florito “Carlo” Dugaduga said Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny Vincente Emano was saddened of the encounter, and hoped that no one would get killed.
Dugaduga said Emano was thankful that no civilian was caught in the crossfires.
He also said Emano has called on the government and the National Democratic Front to resume the peace negotiations.