Villagers evacuated, classes suspended as soldiers, rebels clash in Abra

Sherwin de Vera

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Villagers evacuated, classes suspended as soldiers, rebels clash in Abra
A human rights organization appeals to the military to cease its airstrikes and urged both sides to protect civilians

VIGAN, Philippines – Villagers evacuated and classes were disrupted after government forces battled it out with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a town in Abra province on Tuesday, April 2.

The fierce clashes in the village of Nagcanasan in Pilar town, Abra forced the local government to suspend primary and secondary level classes starting on Wednesday. 

“As a precautionary and proactive measure in anticipation of any untoward incidents in relation to the foregoing and to safeguard the learners and school personnel from physical danger, classes in primary and secondary levels both in public and private schools shall be suspended,” said Pilar Mayor Tyron Christopher Beroña in an executive order issued on Tuesday. 

The Army’s 5th Infantry Division said soldiers from the 50th Infantry Battalion encountered members of the North Abra Guerrilla Front of the NPA’s Ilocos Cordillera Regional Committee just before noon. 

It was the fifth documented clash between communist guerrillas and government forces in Abra this year. 

Army Major Bryan Albano, civil-military operations officer of the 501st Infantry Brigade, told local broadcaster DWRS that the soldiers were on security patrol when they encountered the rebel group. 

Albano said the fierce clashes lasted for hours, until around 7 pm, with clearing operations continuing afterward. Several videos uploaded on Facebook showed military airstrikes that lasted until sundown. 

The military said a soldier was slightly hurt, and they were still finding out if the NPA suffered casualties. 

Families living near the site of the encounter fled their homes, with some evacuating to a gymnasium located in the town center. 

The town government said the evacuees included at least 21 families from Sitio Paring, Barangay Bababalasioan in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, near Nagcanasan. 

The Ilocos Human Rights Alliance, meanwhile, called on the military and NPA to ensure the safety of civilians and uphold International Humanitarian Law, which guarantees that human rights are protected even in times of war. The group also appealed to the military to stop the airstrikes.

“Nananawagan rin kami sa AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) na itigil ang mga aerial bombing dahil sa malaking posibilidad na madamay ang mga sibilyan, alagang-hayop, at masira ang mga taniman at production area ng mga residente sa lugar,” the group said. 

(We also call on the AFP to put a stop to the aerial bombings due to the high possibility of civilians, domestic animals, and residents’ crops and production areas being affected.)

The Philippine Red Cross has dispatched a group of workers to provide evacuees relief aid, child-friendly spaces, a first-aid station, and psychosocial support. – Rappler.com

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