Ifugao ambush: Soldiers 'shot like sitting ducks'
MANILA, Philippines – "They were all shot like sitting ducks."
This was how an Army commander described a guerrilla ambush on his troops in Tinoc, Ifugao province Wednesday, April 25, as they were returning to their camp.
Lt Col Eugene Batara, commander of the 86th infantry battalion, insisted no one is to blame for the attack, which killed 11 soldiers, including an officer, and one female civilian. Another civilian was wounded.
“I don't want to blame any of my troops. It was just a chance attack,” Batara told Rappler.
But Batara's superiors want an investigation.
The military announced the formation of a special body that will look into possible security lapses committed by the battalion. Such lapses might have unwittingly aided the New People's Army rebels in mounting their biggest attack in the region in recent years.
“Our commander, Maj Gen Rommel Gomez, has ordered to convene an... inquiry to look into the Ifugao ambush,” Col Miguel Puyao, spokesman of the Army's 5th infantry division based in Isabela, told Rappler.
The 6-member body will be headed by Col Reynaldo Labayen, deputy commander of the Army's 502nd brigade. They will hold their first meeting on Friday, April 27.
Speaking to Rappler on the phone from his camp in Kiangan town in Ifugao, Batara said that his troops had been on the road for about an hour when the rebels attacked them at around 8 a.m. He thinks the guerrillas were probably positioned for the ambush as early as 5 a.m. that day.
“We were around an hour on the road returning to our camp when we were attacked," Batara said in Filipino. The troops had just attended a change-of-command ceremony in one of the military units in Ifugao.
Batara said the convoy consisted of two all-terrain military trucks and one heavy-duty truck.
Most of those who died in the ambush were members of the Army's combo or musical band who were in the lead vehicle.
Batara was in the second truck, which was followed by the heavy-duty 6x6 truck where the band equipment were loaded.
“The rebels managed to shoot the driver of the lead vehicle, causing the truck to lose control and turn turtle. Due to the impact of the crash, the other soldiers on board lost consciousness and failed to get out of the vehicle,” Batara narrated.
“They were all shot like sitting ducks.”
Batara observed heavy gunfire from the rebels' side. This, he said, prevented soldiers from helping the troops in the lead vehicle.
“Initially, we were around 30 meters behind the lead vehicle. But when the firing began, the truck lost control and sped off while we in the second truck hit the brakes and took cover,” Batara said. “The bullets targeted the lead vehicle.”
He added: “My instruction to the troops in the lead vehicle was 'fire and maneuver,' but apparently, most of them were already dead.”
In Camp Aguinaldo, AFP spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos said the inquiry will also look into the rebels' possible violation of Republic Act 9851, which penalizes crimes against the International Humanitarian Law and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law (CARHRIHL).
“The soldiers were already immobilized as a result of the crash when their vehicle flipped over but the rebels continued to fire at them,” Burgos told reporters.
But Puyao maintained that probe will focus on the "possible (security) lapses (of the unit) and why the incident happened."
According to Batara, the only civilian killed in the attack was a female band vocalist, who was also being recruited to join the military.
In March 2011, 3 soldiers were killed when government troops clashed with the NPA in a remote village in Asipulo town, Ifugao. Months later, another clash in the same town killed a civilian and wounded a soldier.
The military has said that NPA strength has been declining, and that rebel bailiwicks do not include north of Luzon. - Rappler.com