Negros Occidental

Families separated as hundreds flee military, NPA clashes in Negros Occidental

Inday Espina-Varona
Families separated as hundreds flee military, NPA clashes in Negros Occidental

EVACUEES. Residents of mountain villages in Himamaylan , Negros Occidental, take shelter in the city's regional evacuation site after fleeing clashes between the Armed Forces and the New People's Army on October 6, 2022

Courtesy of John Diaz/Aksyon Radyo Bacolod

Some children and parents were still searching for their kin past midnight after fleeing fighting in their mountain villages

More than a hundred families fled their homes in seven Himamaylan City villages in Negros Occidental on Thursday, October 6, as the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade pursued New People’s Army rebels following an early morning encounter.

Aksyon Radyo Bacolod livestreamed around 10 pm the processing of more than 450 residents at the city’s regional evacuation center in Sitio Bajay, Barangay 3, about an hour from the encounter sites in sitios Sig-ang and Medel.

Some students who were on their way to school when the fighting started still had to reunite with their parents by midnight, Radyo Bombo reported.

Earlier in the day, Bombo captured dramatic footage of Carabalan residents streaming out of villages on foot and on motorcycles.

303rd Infantry Brigade Commander Brigadier General Inocencio Pasaporte said 94th Infantry Battalion troops were responding to tips about armed men in Sitio Sig-ang when they encountered a 20-person group believed to be members of NPA’s Central Negros 2 around 6 am on Thursday.

Pasaporte said another clash occurred around 3 pm in Sitio Medel, also in Barangay Carabalan.

Some social media posts showed photos of two alleged rebel casualties but Pasaporte said the 94th IB had not reported any recovered body.

The 303rd IB Facebook page gave scant details on the clashes, calling it “a developing story.”

Local social welfare and development officials said the evacuees at the main evacuation site came from the two most affected villages, Sig-ang and Medel, and the nearby villages of  Poblador, Sig-ang, Kampayas, and Yulayla, also in Carabalan. 

Other evacuees came from Sitio Tonggo in Barangay Cabadiangan.

Around 60 individuals also fled across the town border late afternoon to Payao, in neighboring Binalbagan. Half of them were taken in by former mayor  Emmanuel Aranda.

Where they fled

Aksyon Radyo Bacolod reporter Aksyon John Diaz, reporting from the main evacuation site, quoted officials as sayingat th gunfire could still be heard late at night in the city’s hinterlands but that areas nearer the town center remained safe and calm.

Himamaylan Mayor Raymund Tongson suspended Friday, October 7, classes in the two affected barangays. Binalbagan Mayor Alejandro Mirasol announced the same for Barangays Biao and Payao.

Past midnight, Bombo reported that 136 individuals remained at the Carabalan gym, 20 at the Sitio Medel daycare center, 296 at the evacuation center of Sitio Tonggo, in Cabadiangan, and 70 in Barangay Talaban.

Carabalan Barangay Captain Mildred Titular told Bombo Radyo that Sig-ang and Medel have been emptied of almost all residents, most of them brought to the main city evacuation site while others opted to stay with relatives near the barangay center or the city proper.

The village chief said the few remaining residents of Sitio Medel were asked to stay put in the daycare center “as the heaviest fighting was around there in the afternoon.”

Sitio Sig-ang has 84 households and a population of 450, while Sito Medel has a population of 336 comprising 76 households, said the barangay official.

MAIN EVACUATION SITE. Residents of 7 villages in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, await their turn to register at the evacuation site in hours after fleeing their homes to escape the clashes. (Courtesy of Aksyon Radyo Bacolod/John Diaz)
Frightened youth

Kagawad Edgardo Aurelio, head of the Barangay Carabalan Peace and Order Council said fighting broke out around 6:15 am on Thursday, with gunfire continuing for  almost 30 minutes.

A group of 18 students on their way to school scampered for safety to the barangay office, he told Bombo reporter Dennis Rubica. 

The barangay official told Bombo Radyo he saw three choppers monitoring the area that afternoon but stressed that they did not open fire.

A student at the regional evacuation site said that she and her sister were still looking for their parents. 

The siblings were very near the Carabalan National High School when fighting broke out. Teachers told them to stay put until their families came for them. An aunt later brought them to the barangay hall, and officials soon brought them to the bigger evacuation site.

The local social welfare and development office said it expected more evacuees to arrive. 

They recommended bringing all evacuees to the bigger evacuation center, which serves as a forward post for the city and has facilities like a mess hall, kitchen, toilets and shower rooms for men and women, a clinic, and even a play area for children.

Titular said the fighting started so early that many evacuees missed breakfast and lunch.

Some traumatized children, she added, had developed fever, while some parents worried about their children’s whereabouts and the state of their farm animals.

“I told the residents, I am sorry for our situation, but none of us expected this. So let’s just try to remain calm and pray that everyone is safe,” the village chief said in the local Hiligaynon language.

The processing of evacuees at the main evacuation site was orderly.

Aksyon Radyo showed Himamaylan medical workers taking the blood pressure of evacuees and checking up on those with pre-existing ailments. Welfare staff instructed residents on how to get food, beddings, and face masks for their families.

The city gave folding beds, mattresses, and mats for the evacuees and assigned minders for children.

Himamaylan, 77 kilometers south of Bacolod, the province’s independent capital, has been the site of clashes between government troops and rebels over the past year.

The military reported the deaths of two alleged rebels in a Carabalan encounter on March 10, 2022. A suspected rebel also died during a clash on August 10 in Sitio Bulasot, Barangay Buenavista, closer to the border of the city’s southern neighbor, Kabankalan.

Carabalan was also the site of a June 9, 2021 encounter that killed a soldier and a suspected rebel. On May 26 of the same year, a rebel was also killed in Barangay Buenavista. Two more rebels were killed in the village in December 2021. – Rappler.com

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