Negros Occidental

Military launches airstrike after fierce clashes in Negros Occidental

Reymund Titong

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Military launches airstrike after fierce clashes in Negros Occidental
Escalante City Mayor Beboy Yap declares a suspension of classes in eight villages in the northern city of Negros Occidental

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – The military launched an airstrike on Thursday, February 22, in Sitio Mansulao, Barangay Pinapugusan, Escalante City, following sporadic armed clashes between state forces and a suspected band of New People’s Army (NPA) members.

At least 300 people were evacuated to safer grounds before the airstrike, and they were given appropriate assistance by the City Social Development Office (CSWDO), the military said on Friday, February 23.

Escalante City Mayor Beboy Yap declared a suspension of classes on Friday in eight villages in the northern city of Negros Occidental, including schools in Libertad, Pinapugasan, Binaguiohan, Paitan, Dian-ay, Magsaysay, Malasibog, and Tamlang.

Meanwhile, the group Human Rights Advocates Negros (HRAN) condemned the military airstrike, resulting in evacuations and class cancellations, citing Geneva Convention protocols.

“Under Protocol 2 of the Geneva Convention, indiscriminate attacks are prohibited for failing to distinguish combatants and civilians alike,” a portion of the group’s statement read.

Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javines, 3rd Infantry Division public information office chief, told Rappler that the airstrike was launched by the military at around 7 pm on Thursday, to finish off members of the NPA’s Northern Negros Front (NNF), allegedly harassing and demanding food from villagers in the area.

A series of encounters started around 11 am on Wednesday, February 21, in the same village, resulting in the deaths of three suspected rebels and the wounding of three operating troops of the 79th Infantry Battalion and one Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member.

The military only identified the three rebel fatalities – two males and a female – as Michael, Jose, and Jandy, said to be aliases.

Javines said they were alarmed when villagers informed them of the presence of at least eight NPA rebels demanding food in the area, prompting them to conduct security patrols.

The military found high-powered firearms, one handgun, anti-personnel mines, mobile phones, personal belongings, and NPA documents from the first encounter site.

Javines said the band of rebels in the area was likely protecting a high-ranking guerilla who allegedly came into the area to strengthen the NNF, one of the guerrilla fronts in Negros that state forces had declared to have dismantled in 2021.

Javines said the military did not violate any law, and they conducted risk assessments before the airstrike, including mapping out farms and evacuating community members.

“Even without the airstrike, people will tend to vacate their abode because if their residences are just adjacent to the encounter site, it’s better to ensure their safety,” Javines said.

Denial and claims

NPA’s Apolinario Gatmaitan Command-Negros Island spokesperson Ka Maoche Legislador denied the military’s claim that there were eight armed encounters before the airstrike.

Legislador said that among all the encounters, only Wednesday’s armed engagement was legitimate along the border of communities of Barangay San Isidro in Toboso town and Barangay Mansulao of Escalante City.

“As clarified by the RJPC-NPA (Roselyn Jean Pelle Command), there was no firefight in the area yesterday morning. Instead, over 10 bombs were dropped on Sitio Mansulao, part of Escalante City, between 6 to 9 in the morning, damaging livelihoods and the environment,” he said. –

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