ARMY EXEC KILLED WHILE RESPONDING TO LUMAD’S DISTRESS CALL

2nd lt alejo

 

A young military official was killed by Communist rebels on Wednesday afternoon while he and his men were on their way to a hinterland village in the town of Manay in the province of Davao Oriental to respond to a distress call by the Mandaya indigenous people who fled their villages for fear of being killed by the Communist rebels who “forced” them to join their ranks.

Slain was 2nd Lt. Miguel Victor Alejo, platoon leader of the Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion. “He (Alejo) was killed in the ensuing gunbattle,” says Col. Reuben Basiao, commander of the Philippine Army’s 701st Brigade based in the capital City of Mati. “My men were responding to a distress call made by the residents of Barangay Lambog in Manay town. They went to the area along with a team from the local police. The people said the New People’s Army rebels were forcing them to attend to a pulong-pulong or community dialogue in a bid to convince the locals to join their ranks. The people said the rebels were forcing them to support and join their ranks. So practically all the residents of the village fled their homes for fear of being killed by the rebels because they refused to join their ranks,” says Col. Basiao. The NPA attack took place at 1:45 in the afternoon on Wednesday, just a few hours after the top brass of the Communist rebels said they withdrew their unilateral ceasefire effective February 10 this month.

On January 27 and 28, residents of neighboring village Rizal were also fleeing their homes and farm animals as the heavily armed rebels have threatened to harm them following their refusal to support the rebel activities in their village. Villagers of the adjacent Barangay Del Pilar were also displaced from their homes for fear of the heavily armed rebels. “The rebels are terrorizing us, they are terrorizing the villages. We are helpless,” says one barangay official of the town.

Col. Basiao says they could not launch offensives against the rebels due to an existing unilateral ceasefire declared by the government. “The rebels are intensifying their recruitment activities in the villages that have displaced so many innocent people,” says Col. Basiao. Davao Oriental police provincial director Sr. Supt Harry Espela says the NPA rebels “are taking advantage of the ceasefire. They are now intensifying their recruitment activities.”

After being hit by a sniper attack from the Communist rebels, a firefight ensued between government and rebel forces that lasted for fifteen minutes, according to the military. Only the 26-year-old 2nd Lt. Alejo was killed in the attack and one of his men was wounded in the ensuing firefight. The wounded soldier is now recuperating in a local hospital. An M16 rifle, several backpacks and motorcycles were recovered from the rebels as they fled to the mountainous part of the village.

Aside from asking for food supplies, the rebels were also extorting money from the highly impoverished Mandaya lumad farmers, according to the military. “They (rebels) forced the residents to give them rice for their food supplies. And they also asked money from the highly-impoverished farmers. The people are now fleeing their homes. The evacuees are now in the town proper of Manay,” says Col. Basiao.

Local traders in the agricultural town of Manay have also complained that the rebels “seemed to be emboldened” to ask hefty amount of money from them as “revolutionary tax.” An abaca trader in the town says the rebels have threatened to destroy his abaca business should he refused to give in to the extortion demand of the rebels. “They seemed to be emboldened nowadays, they (NPA rebels) are asking huge amount of money from us. They are victimizing all the local traders. The rebels are getting bolder and bolder and everyone is afraid of them. I hope the government will do something to stop their abuses. It is too much. Even the impoverished residents were not spared by their extortion activities,” says an abaca trader of the town.

“We are a peace-loving people. We don’t like violence. We don’t want the violent culture of the Communist rebels, that is why we shooed them away from our peaceful community. We hope and pray that they will respect us, they will respect our peace-loving culture. We count on the government to help us, and protect us from the attacks of the NPA. We are always caught in the crossfire. Our community is not and should not be the battleground,” says one resident who refused to be named for fear of reprisals by the rebels.

Governor Nelson L. Dayanghirang calls on the Government’s Peace Panel to investigate and to make sure that these atrocities will never happen again. “That no civilians will have to become subject to such terrors and that no soldier or policeman will have to sacrifice his life. These senseless violence needs to end now,” he said.

He assured that the Provincial Government will continue to support the Municipal Government of Manay in providing material support to the men, women, children and elderly evacuees, who are now being displaced by the violence.

“I am also calling on all civilians for sobriety. Let not this incident of violence envelope us with fear. As a community, let us stand together and unite. Let us come and work together to suppress violence. Let us help to become part of the solution by pitching in on the peace efforts,” he said. By Ferdinand Zuasola

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