72 families flee as troops, NPA rebels clash in Sarangani

GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- At least 72 families of a remote village in Alabel town in Sarangani province have evacuated after fierce fighting erupted in the area on Wednesday between government troops and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

1Lt. Daryl Cansancio, company commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said Thursday they engaged with around 15 rebels under the Front 71 at past 6 a.m. at the boundary of Barangays Tokawal and Alegria Alabel.

He said a soldier was slightly wounded during the 15-minute firefight and is currently in stable condition.

The official said they are still verifying reports regarding casualties on the side of the rebels, reportedly led by certain Ka Allan and Ka Jerry, who retreated towards the mountainous portion of the area.

But he said their troops recovered a backpack left by the rebels that contained improvised explosives.

“The pursuit operations are ongoing and we’re making sure that our communities would be properly secured,” he told reporters.

Cansancio said they initially monitored the presence of the rebels near Barangay Tokawal last week.

Citing intelligence reports, he said the rebels have already run out of food and other supplies and are out to extort from local residents.

He said the area host several agricultural plantations, but owners were no longer entertaining demands from the NPA for revolutionary taxes.

“They reportedly decided to go down to prey on our civilians and threaten those who would not support them,” he said.

Noel Morido, Tokawal barangay chair, said the evacuees are currently taking temporary shelter at the village center.

He said 12 of the affected families were initially trapped in the middle of the crossfire but were eventually rescued by government troops.

The 60 other families were forced to evacuate due to the volatile situation as a result of the ongoing operations.

Morido said the local governments of Alabel and Sarangani provided food and other relief assistance to the evacuees.
“Some evacuees were traumatized by the incident so they will undergo stress debriefing,” he added. (PNA)