Negros Occidental

Bishop criticizes military airstrike in Negros Occidental as ‘disproportionate’

Erwin Delilan

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Bishop criticizes military airstrike in Negros Occidental as ‘disproportionate’

KILLED. Soldiers carry a body found at an encounter site in Escalante City in Negros Occidental on Saturday, February 24, 2024.

303rd Infantry Brigade

The Commission on Human Rights says it would initiate an investigation into the military offensive against the New People’s Army in Escalante City

BACOLOD, Philippines – San Carlos City Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza criticized the military on Sunday night, February 25, for launching an airstrike against a small band of rebels  in Escalante City, calling it a “disproportionate act.”

The bishop’s critique came even as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced that it would initiate an investigation into the military offensive against the New People’s Army (NPA), which led to the displacement of numerous families in the Negros Occidental city.

Alminaza condemned the military’s decision to resort to an airstrike on Thursday, February 22, marking it as the first such incident on Negros Island. He said the military action resulted in panic, fear, anxiety, and damage to livelihoods among the residents of Sitio Mansulao, Barangay Pinapugasan in Escalante City, comparing the situation to a scene from a war movie.

CRITICIZE. Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza says the airstrike launched by the military against rebels in Negros Occidental on Thursday night, February 23, was somewhat disproportionate. Erwin Delilan/Rappler

CHR-Negros Director Vincent Parra told local broadcaster Bombo Radyo-Bacolod that they would investigate the matter, citing international humanitarian law, which protects civilians or non-combatants during hostilities.

Richard Jaojoco, a former mayor and now councilor of Toboso town, recounted how many residents were affected as they witnessed military helicopters releasing bullets and rockets, likening it to watching a fireworks display during a fiesta.

Alminaza said the Catholic Diocese of San Carlos would facilitate psycho-social interventions, including debriefing sessions for affected residents of the sporadic encounters and airstrikes in Escalante City and Toboso town, Negros Occidental, both within the diocese’s jurisdiction.

On Saturday, February 24, Alminaza visited Sitio Mansulao, Pinapugasan, assuring affected residents of church aid and emphasizing the need to achieve peace through dialogue rather than armed conflict.

The two-day clashes, coupled with the military airstrike, resulted in the killing of three suspected NPA rebels, and four wounded soldiers, and the displacement of thousands of residents from their homes in six sitios in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso town, and eight villages in Escalante City.

Architecture, Building, Hospital
Brigadier General Orland Edralin, Jr., commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, awards a medal to a wounded soldiers in a hospital, acknowledging his bravery in pursuing rebels in Escalante City and Toboso town on February 21 and 22, 2024. 303rd Infantry Brigade

Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javinez, spokesman of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, said the military resorted to the airstrike as a strategic approach of neutralizing the rebels even at nighttime.

The controversial military airstrike followed sporadic encounters between the Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion and rebels from the NPA’s North Negros Front (NNF) starting on February 21.

Major General Marion Sison, 3rd ID commander, said the military was determined to confront and neutralize the NPA rebels that they dispatched Augusta Westland-109 “Night Hawk” attack helicopters against them.

Javinez said a thorough evaluation, including risk assessment to mitigate collateral damage, preceded the airstrike executed by the 18th Attack Squadron of the Philippine Air Force, asserting that the military strictly adhered to guidelines. –

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