Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 22               July 6 - 12, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Compostela Valley Encounter:
NPA Guerrillas Outmaneuver Army Troopers, Inflict Heavy Casualties

Pinned down by Army troopers who were in ambush position, an undersized platoon of NPA guerrillas seize the higher ground and kill 13 soldiers, including an intelligence officer. The NPA victory in the June 30 Compostela Valley battle, an NPA spokesperson said, is due to the guerrillas’ mastery of the terrain, combat training and discipline, determination to fight and mass support.

By Bejay Absin
Bulatlat.com Mindanao Bureau

DAVAO CITY -- “The death of more and more hound dogs of the fascist Macapagal-Arroyo regime is the net result of its state terrorism.”

This was how Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Mindanao, summed up the recent NPA counter-offensive in Compostela Valley province that claimed the lives of 13 soldiers from the 60th Infantry Battalion, among them Lt. Peter James Angeles, the battalion’s intelligence chief.

The one-hour encounter took place shortly before noon on June 30, in village Pagsabangan, New Bataan town. It started when, according to the NPA, an undersized platoon of 36 guerrillas trekking a creek, were sprayed with bullets by about 80 soldiers, who were positioning for an ambush.

The guerillas, Sanchez said in a press statement, quickly maneuvered to gain higher ground, thus inflicting heavy damage on the attacking government troops. None from the NPA unit, the Ruperto Tuyac Command, was hurt.

They also recovered 12 high-powered firearms: one grenade launcher, one baby Armalite, seven M16 rifles and three M14 rifles, as well as vests, backpacks, a handset radio and a set of binoculars.

Sanchez, the spokesperson of the NPA’s Merardo Arce Command operating in the Southern Mindanao region, credited the Ruperto Tuyac Command’s success in turning into their advantage a potentially fatal ambush to the guerrillas’ “determination to fight,” “mass support” and mastery of the terrain.

Excellent discipline

“The encounter was yet another showcase of the NPA’s excellent discipline and precise combat readiness and maneuver honed by training and actual experience in tactical offensives,” Sanchez said in a statement sent to the Davao City media a day after the incident.

He said that when the tide was turned against the government troops, the latter scampered away, leaving behind their dead.

Among those who were killed in action were PFCs Ronnie G. Mariano, Andresito N. Nogodola, Remegio I. Recone, Hanover E. Manansala, Ronald Rendon, Arturo Casabar, Roderick N. Faisan, Norphy Malabanan; Cpl. Ricardo T. Shahagun; CAAs Eddie Villagonzalo, Guilermo D. Helardo and Antonio M.  Avila. Wounded were Cpl. Eric M. Milo; PFCs Victor B. Iglesias, Montanier O. Planas, Daniel Debicais; and CAA Danilo Penaflor.

Sanchez said the encounter was also a result of the government’s relentless militarization of the countryside. “The NPA is the army of the people, protecting the masses from the fascists who are roaming the countryside to wreak havoc and terrorize the people,” he said. Human-rights groups have seen an increasing trend of human-rights abuses in the Southern Mindanao region allegedly committed by soldiers against civilians and suspected NPA members.

The NPA spokesperson said that “AFP units and men will suffer terribly from the hands of the Red fighters as the people’s war surges forward.”

More than a year ago, the 60th IB lost 10 men and arms and ammunition from the same NPA unit. The communist guerillas sustained no casualty.

During that encounter, Sgt. Ramiro Lawas surrendered and was taken as a prisoner of war. He was released in good health during a formal ceremony last June 11, 2003. (See related articles: NPA Releases POW After Long Captivity  and  POW Says Being with the NPA Made Him Understand the Revolution)

NPA raid in Samar

The Compostela Valley encounter occurred a few days after the NPA in Samar raided a military camp, where more than 12 soldiers were killed. Elsewhere in the country that same week, the NPA fighters also launched offensive actions.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo then ordered “optimum military, political and diplomatic counterattacks.” She directed the Cabinet Oversight committee on Internal Security to “determine the optimum deployment of military and civilian resources to meet the many-sided threat.” She reiterated that she wanted the Communist Party of the Philippines to account for the “terroristic” acts of the NPA.

The president also said that the government should also target the Communists whom she alleged are operating through legal fronts. She urged the armed forces “to expose the web of deception spun by the communist movement with their allied organizations in the democratic struggle.”

Human-rights groups did not take Arroyo’s order sitting down. “This is a marching order for the recycled witch-hunt operation aimed at the legitimate people’s organizations in the open democratic mass movement,” said Dani Beltran, deputy secretary-general of Karapatan, the human-rights alliance. “The president is intensifying her red-scare tactics to give way to more calculated attacks against those critical of her U.S.-backed and militarist administration.”

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, on the other hand, promised to avenge the death of the 13 soldiers by wiping out the NPA. Reyes, who was recently named head of the Task Force Diwalwal, promised to send more troops to the Southern Mindanao region.

Some quarters are concerned that the Pagsabangan encounter would be used by Reyes as a pretext for the intensification of militarization in the area not so much to run after the Communists but to strengthen his and the administration’s control of the Diwalwal gold-rush site, which is reputed to have one of the world’s largest gold deposits. Bulatlat.com

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