MANILA, Philippines — Nine people, including a policeman and six village watchmen, were killed in a remote area of Negros Occidental in what is believed to be the biggest number of fatalities from a single attack by alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) this year.
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, Jr., director of the Western Visayas regional police, said at least six others, including two more policemen, were also wounded in the attack.
“Our personnel and the barangay tanod were actually on their way home after serving as augmentation force during a fiesta celebration in a nearby barangay,” said Cruz.
He identified the slain cop as Police Officer 1 Richard Canja, assigned to the La Castellana Police Station.
The six other fatalities were barangay security watchmen while two others were civilians — the wife of one of the barangay tanod and the driver of the truck. They were identified as barangay security volunteers Ulysses Tamayor, Jonathan Mateo and Ramir Complesa; civilians Virginia Ordonez, Lito Lucban and Ricky Dingcong; and barangay tanod Mario Ricablanca and Tiotimo Esplegera.
The two wounded cops were Police Officer 3 Constantino Villegas and Police Officer 2 Jeffrey Alvarez.
Cruz said the three cops from La Castellana and the barangay tanods were on their way home from Barangay Puso when the incident occurred at around 4 a.m. yesterday in nearby Barangay Cabacungan.
Chief Insp. Rico Santotome, spokesman of the Negros Occidental police, said the incident appeared to be a “cold-blooded murder,” especially considering that some of the gunmen even approached some of the victims and shot them at close range.
Fortunately, he said the children inside the truck were spared by the gunmen.
“They were flagged down first by some 30 fully-armed men and it was after all the children on board alighted the truck when they started firing at the truck,” said Santotome.
One of the perpetrators approached Canja and shot him in the head after seeing that he was still alive.
Santotome said the perpetrators then fled towards the nearby province of Negros Oriental, noting that the area where the incident occurred is near the boundary of the two provinces.
“Soldiers already joined our personnel in the conduct of the pursuit operation,” said Santotome.
The official described the area where the incident occurred as a hot spot, especially for the forthcoming midterm elections.
“We are not yet that sure but most probably, it was the NPA who did it,” said Santotome.
He added that the wounded victims were taken to a nearby hospital.
Cruz, meanwhile, condemned the attack, what with the inclusion of civilians in the casualty list.
He said he had already instructed all police commanders in Western Visayas to further intensify the security measures and even coordinated with the nearby Central Visayas regional police for the conduct of pursuit operation against the perpetrators.
The 4,000-strong NPA has been on an attack mode since its self-declared truce ended on January 15.
Several cases of ambuscades and attack on mining and plantation firms especially in Mindanao have already been reported in the past days.
Meanwhile, the military called the NPA “frustrated murderers” of government militiamen after the insurgent group staged another attack on a CAFGU detachment in Surigao Del Sur.
1Lt. Jolito Borces, Civil-Military Operations (CMO) Officer, 7th Infantry Battalion, 6ID, said the attack took place around 10:50 a.m. Saturday at the CAFGU detachment in Sitio Greenfield, Barangay Sta. Juana, Tagbina, Surigao Del Sur.
The government troops returned fire and a brief firefight ensured. Borces said one was wounded in the government side while the enemy was believed to have suffered undetermined casualties based on the account of witnesses who saw the NPAs carrying their wounded comrades as they fled.
Prior to the attack, a concerned citizen reported the presence of suspected NPA members who were roaming and conducting extortion activities at Sitio Greenfield, according to Borces. With the information at hand, the government forces were able to prepare for possible harassment by the local communist group. (With a report from Elena L. Aben)