By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
and LITO RULONA
SOLDIERS killed an alleged leader of a small group of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in an an encounter in a village in Bukidnon on Saturday.
The military said the suspected rebel, identified as Joven Manggatawan a.k.a Amana, was a “top” or “high-ranking” NPA leader. But then a report from the Army’s 403rd Brigade said the suspect was merely the leader of a “platoon” known as “Sentro de Grabidad” under “Company Thunder” of the sub-regional command of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Regional Command.
Capt. Ryan Layug, 403rd Brigade spokesperson, said Manggatawan, who hailed from Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental, was killed during a clash between a group of about 20 rebels and government troops from the 55th Infantry Battalion in Sitio Bangkalawan, Barangay Lumintao in Quezon town.
Layug said a relative of Manggatawan identified as Oliver Cabusog was was also killed — he died in a hospital in Maramag town several hours later.
Layug said Manggatawan was identified by rebels who already surrendered to the military.
Officials said the communist rebels retreated and left behind firearms and ammunition, including an M1 rifle and two magazines, a rifle grenade, an ammunition magazine for an AK47 rifle, two anti-personnel mines, a two-way radio, six 20-liter water containers filled with rice, assorted personal belongings and NPA documents.
Layug said Manggatawan’s “platoon” was responsible for a series of attacks on farms and the destruction of civilian-owned equipment in southern Bukidnon.
According to the military, Manggatawan’s relatives claimed that the leader of the platoon-sized rebel group abandoned his family.
Layug said the military once sent an emissary to talk Manggatawan into surrendering, but he threatened to kill the emissary.
He said Manggatawan was hit by a bullet in the right arm and then he was abandoned by his men.
He said Army medics rushed to save Manggatawan but he ran out of blood.
Brig. Gen. Edgardo de Leon, 403rd IB commander, said the Brigade “exhausted ways to reach out to the NPA as we tried to convince them to return to the folds of the law and live a peaceful life with their families.”
This effort, de Leon said, has resulted in the surrender of 110 regular NPA members, “but there are still those who opted to remain” with the armed guerrilla group.
“They would have to face the might of the military,” the general warned, adding that “while we extend our hands to offer peace, we are also duty-bound to use sufficient military force against those who continue to terrorize civilians and destroy civilian properties.”