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PH Army Vs. Rebel Groups: The Bicol Saga Continues

NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur—The series of rebel encounters might not have come as a surprise anymore with the long history of clashes between Philippine army troops and rebel groups in the region such as the Donsol clash and Palanas combat, and of late, the Bulusan encounter.

At around 10:00 a.m. on September 6, 2012, Philippine Army soldiers encountered 45 suspected rebels in Bulusan, Sorsogon, leaving two dead and three wounded soldiers.

Private First Class Romy Dacuro and Michael Bigay died from the encounter, while Corporals Rodel Llandelar and Rolando Cruzado suffered injuries, and Private First Class Jaypee Retardo has been critically wounded, according to Inquirer News report.

Reports claimed that the 20-minute open fire between the soldiers and the rebels ensued after the former attacked the latter’s camp where regional and provincial National People’s Army (NPA) units were lodged. The 31st Infantry Battalion, in turn, encountered the elite force of rebels with high-powered ammunitions, specifically four machine guns.

Prior to the Bulusan encounter, the 31st Infantry Battalion had a clash with a small rebel group on May 8, 2012 at about 5:14 a.m. The Philippine Information Agency in Donsol, Sorsogon reported that the soldiers attacked a temporary camp of 10 to 15 rebels upon receiving a tip from a concerned citizen in Brgy. Pinamanaan.

An exchange of fire took place between the Bravo Company and the rebel group that lasted for 30 minutes. The group of soldiers, led by 1Lt. Randel L. Wandag, endured the firefight with no casualties, while the rebels retreated short of three members.

Inquirer News reported that the three rebel casualties during the encounter were Joel Ascutia, also known as “Ka Pepe,” who was later identified as the leader of the Concerned Drivers and Operators-Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator (Condor-Piston), and two other rebels identified as Christian Llagas and Leopoldo Nebres.

Just last month, August 20, 2012, two rebels were caught at around 9:00 a.m. in Bulan, Sorsogon through a joint operation between the local police and the Philippine Army acting on the information of a tipster. The two rebels were identified as Alex Gerandino and Florence Galos, who immediately surrendered without a gunfight, according to The Philippine Star.

Another joint operation took place at a temporary rebel camp nearby upon the tip of the said two captured rebels. Police and army troops, in turn, had geared up to attack the camp which gave rise to a 20-minute gunfight on the rebel site. Unfortunately, the rebels managed to escape although bloodstains along the escape route, spotted by authorities, suggested that the former had sustained injuries.

Earlier that month, an 18-minute gunfight between soldiers and rebels happened in Planas, Masbate. Based on the Bicol Today News report, it was around 6:10 a.m. on August 8, 2012, when the 9th Infantry Battalion on patrol encountered 12 rebels. The battle was said to have left one unidentified rebel dead.

According to a Business Mirror News, a bloody saga between government forces and NPA troops also took place in Masbate on August 14, 2011 characterized by the following events: Mobo Police Station raid at 2:30 a.m.; Matungaw Bridge ambush of military reinforcements at 4:45 a.m.; Poblacion Mobo ambush of Semeniano Convoy at 6:45 a.m.; and the Maingaran ambush of 93rd Division Reconnaissance Company at 9:00 a.m.

Catanduanes, which was tagged in the United Nations Development Programme study as the weakest area among other communist operations in Bicol provinces, was nonetheless a battleground between the Philippine Army and the NPA.

On March 27, 2012, the 83rd Infantry Battalion aboard a military truck was ambushed by rebels in San Miguel, Catanduanes leading to the death of Private First Class Edel Llamas and the leg injury of Private First Class Elisio Gran. According to the Philippine News Agency, heroic Pfc Llamas engaged into suppressive fires against the rebels, using his K3 submachine guns, to give way to the unloading of soldiers from the truck.

Meanwhile, a controversial encounter with rebels transpired in Labo, Camarines Norte on February 25, 2012 which resulted not only to the death of Regional Vice-Commander Rafael Llanto, also known as “Ka Gopi,” and Benjamin Manzera, a suspected rebel, but also to the death of the latter’s minor sons Michael Manzera and Richard Manzera, based on the 9th Infantry Division report. The rebel’s daughter, Leoneza Manzera, also sustained a gunshot wound.

Rebel Attacks Timeline
While rebel groups in Region V were said to have been weakened during President Corazon Aquino’s administration, they have nonetheless endured the rebellion since the inception of their Bicol Command way back in the 1970’s.

In a study conducted by Paz Verdades Santos, “The Centre of Gravity: The New People’s Army in the Bicol Region,” she asserted that “by 1987 the Bicol command claimed leadership in many aspects: mass mobilizing in the urban areas, largest arms haul through direct seizure of arms from the military, platoon-size night operations, number of regional medical staff, party education, and a support base of 120,000.”

Consequently, the government peace panel, headed by Atty. Alexander Padilla, is about to engage into informal talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) in Oslo, Norway in the hopes of establishing a ceasefire agreement between State forces and rebel groups.

Here are some recent rebel activities and encounters in the Bicol region:

January 2012: Silver Star Bus from Bulan, Sorsogon was set on fire by rebels in Legaspi City.

February 2012: A rebel encounter transpired in Labo, Camarines Norte with two rebels and two minors (sons of the slain rebel) casualties

March 2012: 83rd Infantry Battalion was ambushed in San Miguel, Catanduanes, leaving one soldier dead and another one injured.

May 2012: 31st Infantry Battalion attacked a temporary rebel camp in Donsol, Sorsogon with three dead rebels left behind by the fleeing communist group.

August 2012: 9th Infantry Battalion encountered rebels in Planas, Masbate with one rebel dead.

Two rebels were caught in Bulan, Sorsogon in a joint operation between the local police and the Philippine army.

Nearby camp of rebels was attacked by the joint operation within Bulan, Sorsogon which possibly left wounded rebels on retreat.

September 2012: 31st Infantry Battalion encountered an elite force of rebels which led to the death of two soldiers and three wounded ones.