Army, NPA conflict in CL spills over to media

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    ANGELES CITY- The conflict between government troopers and communist guerillas in Aurora seems to have spilled over to the realm of media.

    As Maj. Gen. Ralph Villanueva, commander of the Philippine Army (PA) in Central Luzon asked media to ignore as “mere propaganda” any information from the New People’s Army (NPA), the latter issued yesterday yet another bulletin saying four more soldiers were killed in another clash with its guerillas in Barangay Diaat in Ma. Aurora in Aurora province.

    Both the military and the NPA confirmed firefights between their forces in Barangay Galintuja in Ma. Aurora last Aug. 16, and in Barangay Dia-at, also in Ma. Aurora last Aug. 24. Both claimed victories in the two incidents and provided some details.

    In its bulletin yesterday, Rowena Servante, spokesperson of the NPA’s Domingo Erlano Command in Aurora, said four soldiers were “confirmed killed” in the clash last Aug. 24, apart from three other fatalities in the firefight last Aug. 16.

    But Villanueva insisted government forces did not sustain any casualty in the incidents and even cited reports that, in the case of last Aug. 24 clash, forces from the 71st infantry battalion headed by Lt. Col. Melquiades Feliciano even in Barangay Dia-at.

    He said Feliciano’s forces also seized from the fleeing rebels one Browning automatic rifle, one M16 and two M14 rifles with 156 rounds of bullets, one Icom radio equipment, and four anti-personnel landmines.

    The NPA’s statement was no less detailed on the latest encounter. It said the clash was provoked by an offensive from the 71st IB and that its guerillas killed four soldiers in the exchange of fire.

    The NPA also said its forces were able to seize from the soldiers some packs which revealed the identities of their owners as Lt. Michael P. Antonio whom it identified as the head of the army team, Pvt. Roger Fomorca, Pfc. Reiner Osotio, Pfc. Ric Noble, Pfc. Virgilio Teroy, and one more pack whose owner could not be ascertained.

    The packs allegedly contained bullets for an M203 grenade launcher , some maps, two cell phones, two medical kits, and personal belongings., 2 cellphone, 2 medical kit at “mga personal na gamit.”

    These packs were seized after the soldiers reportedly came to retrieve them after the initial firefight an hour earlier, the NPA said.

    The NPA bulletin said “at least seven soldiers from the 71st IB have been confirmed to have died and more were reported wounded in one week since last Aug. 16” and that the incidents belie claims of the military that it is winning the war against the rebels.

    Servante insisted the military has kept the information on the fatalities away from the media allegedly to avoid embarrassment amid the claim of the Armed Forces’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) that it is on schedule in complying with the directive of Pres. Arroyo to crush the NPA by next year.

    Villanueva, however, appealed to media “not to be used in the misinformation campaign of the NPA bandits,” he said, adding that the rebels were the ones who suffered heavy casualties during recent clashes with government forces. He did not, however, say how many rebels were killed in recent clashes.

    Villanueva said “the NPA is now giving false and baseless information in order to project that they are still a force to reckon with”, as he dismissed the NPA’s report on army casualties as “mere propaganda”.

    “It can be recalled that the NPA bandits in the tri-boundaries of Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Aurora provinces suffered heavy casualties in the past months as a result of successful military offensives,” he noted.

    Villanueva said the “setbacks of the NPA were further aggravated with the disaffection and eventual surrender of their fighters who availed of the social integration program of the government.”

    “Our constant efforts of reaching out to the people in the far-flung barangays proved instrumental in the armed engagements. The people are not afraid to reveal information about the NPA bandits’ presence,” he added.

    Nolcom spokesperson Lt. Col. Rosendo Armas also said he had interviewed soldiers from the 71st infantry battalion and got assurance that no soldier got killed in the ambush last Aug. 16.

    Earlier, Armas said the Nolcom is on track in complying with the mandate of Pres. Arroyo to “crush” the NPA by next year. He said the rebels in the Nolcom area have been reduced to ragtag bands which have lost ideology and turned into mere bandits.

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