Army: ‘Child warrior’ killed in Caraga clash

By : Jigger Jerusalem Mindanao Today/01:02:04pm 07/16/2021


(Note: This news article was published in the print edition of Mindanao Today on June 21, 2021)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Despite accusation that the three persons, including a minor, killed during a firefight in Agusan del Sur were mere farmers, the military has maintained that the casualties were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“As proof that they were NPA was that they were holding firearms and were the first to fire on the soldiers,” Maj. Rodulfo Cordero Jr., spokesperson of the Armys 4th Infantry Division, said.

He said the soldiers encountered a group of NPA fighters in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur and Barangay Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, for two consecutive days.

On June 14, troops from the 3rd Special Forces Battalion have engaged a unit of the NPA while foraging for food in Sitio Tibog, Mabuhay, said Lt. Col. Benedict Harvey Gernale, the battalion’s commanding officer.

The insurgents were able to withdraw after a gun battle, he said.

During the operation, soldiers also chanced upon a female minor who tipped them off on the whereabouts of the retreating rebels, he said.

Soldiers also found in the area black powder, blasting caps, and assorted nails, which Gernale said, are “integral components of an anti-personnel mine.”

“Our operating troops pursued the withdrawing enemy and captured an NPA combatant at the encounter site,” Gernale said.

The minor, the identity of whom was withheld by the military for her security, was turned over to the municipal social welfare and development office in Prosperidad town for “psychosocial intervention and appropriate assistance.”

The following day, June 15, another Special Forces team was able to track the fleeing NPA fighters in Sitio New Decoy, Diatagon.

Gernale said the rebels fired at the soldiers and detonated an anti-personnel mine as the government forces made their advance.

“An intense firefight ensured for more than 10 minutes after which the terrorists scampered and tried to evade the operating troops,” he said.

He added that despite the rugged terrain and the danger from the enemy’s sniper fire, “our soldiers pursued the withdrawing enemy.”

In the New Decoy encounter, three persons, a male and two females, were killed, Gernale said.

The military identified the fatalities as Willy Rodriguez, 20; Lenie Rivas, 38; and her 12-year-old sister, whose name was withheld.

Gernale said the NPA rebels belonged to the Sub-Regional Sentro de Grabidad Southland, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee.

At the encounter area, pursuing soldiers recovered an AK47 rifle, two .45 caliber pistols, two anti-personnel mines, a claymore mine, magazines and ammunition, two blasting caps, a 25-meter detonating cord, and a 3-meter electrical wire attached to a firing switch.

Cordero said it was possible that the killed minor could have used the hand gun as it was found near her, although he added an NPA child recruit can carry and fire a larger and heavier firearm such as an M16 or AK47.

The three cadavers were properly turned over by the Special Forces to their families in Sitio Manluy-a, Diatagon.

Brig. Gen. Allan Hambala, commander of the Army’s 401st Brigade, said the incident “once again proved that the CTG has no regard for human rights and they are blatantly violating the International Humanitarian law (IHL) by recruiting minors to join their senseless armed struggle.”

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Oliver Vesliño, acting commander of the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) and Joint Task Force Diamond, said that concerned Armed Forces of the Phils. units under the JTF are pursuing the fleeing rebel combatants so that “justice will be served to the victims of their lies and deception.”

“AFP units under JTF Diamond will continue its relentless security operations against the CTG in Caraga region to destroy the armed group, and stop its resource generation and recruitment of minors. We will also file cases of IHL violations against the leadership of NEMRC,” he said.

Vesliño also extended his condolences to the bereaved families of the dead NPA rebels.

He then urged the remaining NPA members to return to the fold of the law and avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) of the government.

Meanwhile, progressive groups have condemned the killing of the three who they asserted as farmers who belonged to the Manobo tribe, contrary to the claim of the military that the fatalities were armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

According to the group Katribu, the Rodriguez and the Rivas sisters were “shot by soldiers encamped in their community while harvesting abaca at 1pm in Sitio Panukmoan, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.”

Katribu said the Army’s 48th Infantry Battalion and the 3rd Special Forces Battalion have been camping in the area for several months now.

“The continued brutal killings of indigenous peoples is the policy of the Duterte regime to silence, threaten and instill fear to those who are against its oppressive and opportunistic programs, policies and rule,” said Rei Paulin, Katribu national coordinator in a statement.

He said the “lumad” or tribal peoples only want to live in peace and till their ancestral land.

“Their desire is to be afforded a fair opportunity in life through delivery of basic social services such as education and health. Their deprivation is the reason why they are involved in a struggle to defend their communities and build their own schools,” Paulin said.

“Amid the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, these lumad-Manobo are trying to live, but why, even a minor, were killed by soldiers,” said Kakay Tolentino, Bai Indigenous Women’s Network national coordinator in the same statement.

Katribu said Rodriguez and Rivas were members of the tribal organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod.

The minor, it said, was a student of the Lumad Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur school, as opposed to the assertion of the military that she was an NPA “child warrior.”

Katribu said it is calling for “immediate justice for the three killed and all the victims of extrajudicial killings in the country. Stop militarization in the countryside. Oust the Commander-in-Chief Duterte.”

For its part, the Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, said in a separate statement that the soldiers “fired upon a group of farmers in [Panukmoan] that instantly killed Rodriguez, Rivas and her younger sister.

Sandugo said a group of farmers even asked permission from the military before going to the abaca farm.

It said the Army presented the bodies of the three casualties as “slain rebels.”

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