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NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – On the day that marked the 51st anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, six suspected New People’s Army (NPA) were killed by the Army’s 47th Infantry Battalion in an alleged clash in Sitio Lubi, Barangay Tabugon, Kabankalan City, on Thursday, September 21.
Ka Andrea Guerrero, spokesperson of the Armando Sumayang Jr. Command of the New People’s Army Southwest Negros Guerrilla Front (ASJC-NPA), identified the six fatalities as Bobby Pedro or Ka Rekoy, Mario Mullon or Ka Goring, and Janice Flores or Ka Joyce, who was a medical personnel of the NPA; Alejo delos Reyes or Ka Bravo and his wife Melissa Dela Peña or Ka Diane, who were allegedly on leave as the latter was six months pregnant; and tricycle driver Ruben Gaitan.
Army Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javines, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office chief, said about ten rebels opened fire at a group of soldiers who were responding to reports of the presence of armed rebels extorting food and stuff in the area.
The gunbattle, which started around 7:50 in the evening, lasted for about 10 minutes, the military said.
Guerrero claimed that five of six fatalities were noncombatant members of the NPA. Gaitan, however, was just a tricycle driver hired to transport the five to a destination, which the spokesperson did not cite.
Noncombatant refers to an individual who does not have to capacity engage in a combat operation or firefight.
Guerrero said the group was allegedly fired at by the military troopers while passing the dark road of Sitio Lubi in Tabugon village onboard a motorcycle owned by Gaitan.
“This is a clear violation of international humanitarian law on treatment of noncombatants, particularly the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, and is considered a war crime,” Guerrero said.
Ariel Gaitan, wife of Ruben, said that her husband was a worker in a sugar milling company in Kabankalan City and a tricycle driver at the same time.
“Kis-a aga na siya magpuli kay gapasada na sya sa Kabankalan City kun damo pasahero,” she said in an interview with Radyo Bandera Sweet FM-Kabankalan.
(Sometimes, he [Ruben Gaitan] goes home at dawn because he used to ply his motorcycle, especially when passengers flock in the city center)
Ariel believed that her husband had no connection to the armed group and was only hired to transport them.
Ruben was later declared by the military as a member of the communist group killed in the armed engagement with the five others.
Ruben and his widow were living together for twelve years in Sitio Lumbia, Barangay Camansi, Kabankalan City.
According to Javines, the same rebel group has committed several atrocities in Negros Occidental province, including the alleged killing of Pastor Lonie Lahaolahao in Barangay Camindangan, Sipalay City in 2020, and Silas Granada earlier this year.
The military also linked them to the ambush-slay of the four soldiers in 2021 and 2022, in Cauayan town and Sipalay City, respectively. They were also accused of burning the construction equipment in the cities of Kabankalan and Sipalay in March 2022.
The rebels were identified by the authorities as members of the Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda (SYP) Platoon, South-Western Front (SWF), Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor (KR-NCBS).
The military seized four cal. 45 pistols, one cal. 38 revolver, one hand grenade, magazines and ammunition, electronic gadgets, personal belongings, and subversive documents.
Major General Marion R. Sison, 3rd Infantry Division Commander, lauded the troops of the 47th Infantry Battalion for their relentless effort in maintaining the peace and order in Negros Island. – Rappler.com