By FROILAN GALLARDO
Special Correspondent .
A GROUP of foreign development workers cheated death when communist rebels exploded a landmine on their convoy as they were coming down from the uplands of Impasug-ong town in Bukidnon yesterday morning.
Lt. Col. Ronald Illana, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion, said security escorts of the foreigners engaged the rebels in a 40-minute firefight.
Illana said eight soldiers were wounded, including the Army team leader, Lt. Angelo Francis Vinuya.
He said at least three of the NPA rebels were also wounded as shown by a bloody trail around the ambush site.
Illana said none of the 11-person group of Malaysians, Indonesians, and Vietnamese were injured.
Pia Paraiso, spokesperson for the NPA for Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, confirmed that its members engaged the soldiers.
Paraiso did not provide details of the incident, saying she was still waiting for a report from the NPA unit involved in the fighting.
Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Army’s 403rd Brigade, said the foreigners went to a Higaonon tribe village in Barangay Hagpa, Impasug-ong town on Wednesday.
He said the foreigners contacted the Higaonon Amamag Malandang Landok Gagaw (Hamog) and sought assistance from the local government of Impasug-ong.
“They wanted to see the activity of the Higaonon lumad in their village and how they preserve their cultural traditions,” de Leon said.
After spending a night in the lumad village, the group left yesterday morning aboard a dump truck provided by the local government.
Soldiers aboard a military truck also went along with them to provide security.
Illana said that upon reaching Sitio Nasandigan, Barangay Kalabugao, a landmine detonated by the rebels exploded in front of the escorting military truck.
He said a 40-minute firefight ensued as the soldiers fought the rebels. Most of the foreigners hid at the back of the dump truck.
After the fighting, Illana said the foreigners quickly left for the Laguindingan airport in Misamis Oriental to catch their flight to Manila.