By NITZ ARANCON,
and LITO RULONA
NEW People’s Army (NPA) rebels “rescued” one of their own who was held by barangay tanod members enforcing a curfew in Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon, Tuesday night. They fled and subsequently burned two vans, a pick-up truck, a truck and two motorcycles in an oil palm plantation, a police investigator in Manolo Fortich town.
S/Sgt. Christian del Carlos revealed this to the Gold Star Daily as he brushed aside reports of a supposed encounter between members of the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) and NPA rebels in Sitio Aurora, Barangay Sto. Niño in Manolo Fortich.
Camp Alagar claimed that law enforcers and military forces foiled an NPA plan to carry out attacks on private farms and government installations.
Lt. Col. Surki Sereñas, Camp Alagar spokesperson, said the Manolo Fortich police received an information from a concerned citizen that the NPA was about to stage an offensive in Sitio Aurora, Barangay Santo Niño.
“The information was received at around 11:00 o’clock in the evening,” said Sereñas, adding that the police and military immediately responded.
Sereñas said that a few minutes later, a firefight ensued when the NPA harassed a Cafgu detachment, quoting a supposed report from Manolo Fortich police chief Lt. Col. Duphar Chris Cuaresma.
He said no one was hurt in the encounter as a result of the NPA harassment.
Sereñas said responders did not catch the retreating guerrilla fighters but the NPA members burned down several vehicles, including an Isuzu Elf truck, a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck, two motorcycles, a tricab.
He said police also found fired cartridges of a caliber .45 pistol, AK-47 and M-16 armalite rifle.
He called up this paper and said the vehicles were burned outside a farm.
But a witness, a civilian volunteer named Ramer Milgo, said the vehicles were brought inside a plantation in Sitio Aurora that is owned by one Victor Añana.
The vehicles, according to Milgo, were burned by about 30 armed rebels.
The police investigator, S/Sgt. del Carlos, said the trouble started after tanod members stopped and held a man on a motorcycle for violation of the town’s curfew policy at around 10 pm.
Subsequently, said del Carlos, eight men on four motorcycles came and fired shots to pressure the tanod members to release their colleague.
The armed suspects fled but took Milgo as hostage.
Milgo said he ran off while the rebels were burning the vehicles.
Del Carlos said the rebels were already gone when the police responded at the plantation at about 1:30 am yesterday.
Del Carlos said the police were checking records with the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in the hope of identifying the owners of the vehicles that were burned by the rebels.
“Wala man goy mga tag-iya sa maong sakyanan nga mi-report dinhi sa among police station nga nawad-an sila sa sakyanan, ma-o nang amo nalang susihon sa LTO kinsay tag-iya niini,” said del Carlos.
Lt. Col Sereñas said investigators were trying to figure out why the vehicles were burned.
When he called up this paper, he said the rebels apparently did not need the vehicles because of the terrain of their escape route.
But in a separate interview, Sereñas said it’s either the vehicles belonged to the NPA and they intentionally set them on fire as they made their retreat or they were owned by farmers.
“If the vehicles are owned by the farmers, it’s possible that they are also the targets of the attack,” Sereñas said.
In a press statement, Camp Alagar said the NPA planned to attack private farms and vulnerable government installations in the area in connection with their extortion activity.
“It’s a scare and extort tactic,” reads the statement released by Sereñas.
Over Magnum Radio, Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade, said the rebels withdrew as soon as 1st Army Special Force troops responded.
“We received information at around 11:30 na hindi kilala ang nakasakay at hinarang ng mga barangay tanod. Tumawag kaagad sa Army unit ang tanod as part of our community support program,” de Leon said.
De Leon said the vehicle owners and drivers can help by coming forward and help by filing complaints.
“Hindi na alam nga mga NPA kung saan sila pupunta at gayan na ang kanilang kinikilos. Hindi nila kayang gawin ang pag-attack sa municipal police station na laging nag-defense rehearsal exercise and fully alert,” he said.