An encounter between Army troopers and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on Sunday afternoon in Barangay Upper Maalo, Juban, Sorsogon, forced at least 81 families to scamper for safety.
Soldiers belonging to the 31st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and a band of NPA guerrillas clashed at about 3 p.m. on Sunday in the upland village of Upper Maalo, some eight kilometers from the town proper.
Caught in the crossfire were 81 families
residents who immediately fled to neighboring villages.
Reline Arellano, public information officer of Juban town, said residents started to evacuate to safer grounds at about 6 p.m. Sunday when the firefight intensified as the military sent two government helicopters to reinforce the men on ground with heavy gunfire at the area where the NPA rebels were sighted.
Barangay captain Bernardo Honra of Upper Maalo, allowed the 81 families to return home after given clearance by Juban officials when the situation returned to normal on Monday.
Army Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, 9th Infantry Division spokesperson, confirmed that the Army’s 31st IB engaged the services of two helicopters from the Philippine Air Force Technical Operations Group 5 in pursuing the NPA rebels.
Aguilar said “it is very unfortunate that civilians were affected during the armed skirmishes that took place on Sunday.”
He, however, justified the military operation as move to drive away the armed group that were lording it over unarmed and defenseless civilian communities.
“We are very cautious in the conduct of security operations to ensure the safety of civilians, which is our primary consideration,” Aguilar added.
He said several encounters between Army troopers and NPA rebels took place over the weekend in various villages in the towns of Magallanes, Bulan and Juban on Saturday and Sunday.
The first encounter occurred at about 4:50 p.m. on Saturday in Barangay Tula-Tula Sur in Magallanes town where a 45-minute firefight happened, resulting in the recovery of improvised explosive devices and backpacks, Aguilar said.
Another 20-minute engagement took place at the vicinity of Barangay Lapinog, Magallanes, at about 9:30 p.m. where one soldier was wounded during the clash.
In Bulusan town, NPA rebels fired at an Army detachment in Barangay Porog, Bulusan at about 11 a.m. Sunday. No casualty was reported. (PNA)