BUTUAN CITY – A running gun battle that erupted at dawn last May 10 at the Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental border has already killed at least 10 communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, Army officials said Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Francisco Molina,  Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion commander, said the first encounter took place in Sitio Likudon, Barangay Kamanikan in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental.

Molina said Sitio Likudon is at the border of Las Nieves town in Agusan del Norte and under the operational jurisdiction of the 23IB, a unit under the 402nd Infantry Brigade (402Bde).

“As of early morning Tuesday (May 12), we already recovered 10 dead bodies of NPA combatants and brought them to two funeral parlors in Gingoog City,” Molina said.

Pursuit operations

He said pursuit operations are still ongoing and sporadic encounters continue since Sunday in the area as the remaining NPA members scampered in different directions after the first armed engagement.

“It’s still dangerous in the area. The NPAs planted landmines and our troopers are very careful while conducting pursuit operations,” Molina said.

He said government troops also recovered five high-power firearms, ammunition, landmines, cellphones, and subversive documents.

Molina said the military operation was launched Sunday after residents reported the presence of around 70 armed men who later turned to be NPA rebels under its Guerrilla Front 4A (GF-4A).

Upon reaching the area at around 4 a.m. on Sunday, Molina said the armed men fired on approaching troopers that resulted in a 10- to 15-minute firefight.

Running gun battle

The Philippine Air Force (PAF), he added, immediately dropped in more Army troopers in the area.

In an interview Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Maurito L. Licudine, 402Bde commander, commended the 23IB troopers for the “success of the military operations in the area.”

“This is a running gun battle as gun fires can still be heard in the area,” said Licudine, who was in Gingoog City with Molina to personally monitor the continuing pursuit operations.

Licudine said they are expecting more NPA casualties as government troops continued to scour the Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental border to pursue the remaining NPA combatants.

Licudine said the rebels harassed, extorted, and collected food from civilians who recently received their relief assistance from the government.

The rebels, he said, were short on food supplies following the lockdowns enforced to contain the 2019 coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Hunger, exhaustion

“The NPA rebels have suffered hunger and exhaustion as their emissaries encountered difficulties in finding supplies of foods and other basic needs,” the Army official added.

He said the NPA is also constrained in obtaining supplies after most barangays in Gingoog City and parts of Agusan del Norte had declared the NPA as persona non grata last year.

“Despite the declaration, civilians continue to fear the presence of the NPA. I commend the courage of some civilians who, despite the danger, managed to provide us accurate information on the area where the NPA were gathering. The information resulted in this successful military operation,” Molina said.

Molina said no casualties were reported on the side of the government.

Persona non grata

1Lt. Roel Maglalang, 23IB civil-military operations officer, said the unit has conducted a series of information drives in the area since last year that resulted in the declaration of persona non grata of communities against the NPA.

Since the declaration, Maglalang said the civilians have been providing vital information on the movements of the NPA.

“The support of the civilians is vital to our effective operations. The recent military operation was a success due to their support and cooperation,” Maglalang said.

Meanwhile, military officials have called on the remaining NPA combatants to surrender and return to their families and communities peacefully.

“The government is always ready to accept them and to provide assistance to start their lives again,” Licudine said.

The NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (Alexander Lopez/PNA)