MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Army said it is “saddened” over the death of 2 children who were caught in a crossfire during an encounter with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a remote village in Camarines Norte on Saturday, February 25.
The firefight, which broke out after troops of the Army’s 49th Infantry Battalion were dispatched to the hinterlands of Barangay Malaya in Labo town, resulted in the death of 4 people, including the 2 boys, aged 7 and 10.
“Our informant told me that the rebels were asking for food and extortion money from them. I readily deployed my soldiers to check the veracity of the report,” said Lt Col Epimaco Calisang, commander of the Army’s 49th Infantry Battalion.
The military claimed that the rebels attacked their troops around 1pm, triggering a fire fight that lasted for about 10 minutes. Two rebels, identified as Rafael Llanto aka Gopi, said to be a ranking rebel leader of the NPA’s Rehiyonal Yunit Gerilya (regional command), and Benjamin Manzera, 54, were killed in the clash. There were no casualties on the side of the government troops.
The cadavers of the 2 kids who died in the encounter bore gunshot wounds and were apparently children of one of slain rebels.
A 14-year old sister (Leoneza) of the kid fatalities also sustained a gunshot wound in her wrist and was treated by Army combat medics. She has been admitted to a hospital in Daet town.
Even before a formal investigation could begin to determine what led to the kids’ death, the military has pinpointed an accusing finger to the NPA rebels.
“I am saddened by this incident. I blamed it to the rebels who fired automatic shots at my soldiers, sending countless bullets to various directions,” said Macalisang.
Major General Josue Gaverza, the Commander of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, has condoled with the grieving relatives of the crossfire victims.
“I have offered the Army’s assistance to the bereaved family members of the slain civilians. I am equally saddened by this unfortunate incident wherein these innocent children are caught in the crossfire,” said Garveza. “I have requested the PNP authorities in Camarines Norte to conduct a thorough investigation regarding this encounter.” – Rappler.com