Hundreds displaced, classes suspended due to armed conflict in Negros Occ. City

Police secure the distribution of food packs to hundreds of families in Toboso and Escalante City, Negros Occidental displaced by the series of encounters in Barangay Pinapugasan, Escalante City on February 21 and 22. (Photo courtesy of Escalante City Police Station/Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office)

By Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD City – More than 700 people were displaced in two localities in northern Negros Occidental following a series of clashes between the military personnel and the New People’s Army (NPA) at Sitio Mansulao, Barangay Pinapugasan, Escalante City, Negros Occidental on February 21 and 22.

Captain Dan Carlo Samoza, civil military operations (CMO) officer of the Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion (IB), said that at least 172 families or 779 individuals were evacuated from three barangays.

The evacuees in Escalante City included 28 families or 112 individuals from Barangay Binaguiohan, and 78 families comprising 302 individuals in Barangay Pinapugasan. They are temporarily sheltered at Binaguiohan Elementary School and Pinapugasan National High School.

Samoza stated that 66 families or 365 individuals were also evacuated in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso town, and are temporarily staying in San Isidro Elementary School since the area where the first clash erupted is located at the boundary of the two localities.

Both municipalities of Toboso and Escalante have already provided food packs to the affected households.

According to the 79th IB, eight encounters against the remnants of the dismantled Northern Negros Front (NNF-D) occurred in Barangay Pinapugasan over two days, resulting in the deaths of three suspected NPA rebels, and injuries to three soldiers, and a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) Active Auxiliary (CAA).

This armed conflict also led the local governments of Toboso and Escalante to suspend classes on February 23, until further notice, for the safety of students and school personnel.

Mayor Melecio Yap Jr. announced on Thursday night the suspension of classes for elementary, junior, and senior high school in Barangays Libertad, Pinapugasan, Binaguiohan, Paitan, Dian-ay, Magsaysay, Malasibog, and Tamlang. He advised everyone to remain vigilant and safe.

Yap expressed sadness about the series of encounters in the city in a statement posted on the city government’s Facebook page.

The mayor condemned the incident which affected several people and assured the residents of Escalante that the city government is on top of the situation to ensure their safety and maintain peace and order.

He urged the remaining NPA rebels to return to the folds of the law.

Toboso Mayor Madonnah Jaojoco issued an executive order on February 22, for the cancellation of classes at all levels in public and private daycare centers and schools, effective February 23, until the revocation of the executive order to ensure the safety of learners, students, and school personnel amid the ongoing armed conflict.

In her executive order, Jaojoco stated that since the start of the year, there have been a series of killings claimed by the NPA and encounters with the group within the municipality’s territorial jurisdiction.

Jaojoco mentioned that the town’s Peace and Order Council convened for a special meeting on February 22, with the series of killings and encounters on the agenda, concluding that there is a pressing threat from the NPA.

The series of clashes broke out in Barangay Pinapugasan on Wednesday morning when troopers responded to community reports of an armed group allegedly conducting extortion activities in the area.

The initial encounters were reported last Wednesday at the boundary of Toboso and Escalante City. The conflict continued into the following day, with the 79th IB employing close air support against the NNF-D remnants. A video of the air strike has been circulating on social media.

Javines stated that the 79th IB launched a precision air strike against the rebels’ stronghold in its eighth recorded encounter in the hinterlands of Escalante City on Thursday night.

During airstrikes, Javines assured that authorities adhere to strict guidelines, with a careful risk assessment to mitigate collateral damage. Factors such as the proximity of residential zones, utilities, and livestock underwent thorough evaluation.

He added that these measures are essential for safeguarding civilian lives and minimizing property damage, integral to conducting responsible and effective military operations while reducing adverse impacts on communities.

Javines noted that the interoperability among troops and night fighting capability highlights the strategic approach to eliminating the persistent threat posed by the NPA.

The AW-109AH helicopters, equipped with advanced features for precision strikes, were deployed to support the AFP’s tactical air operations, including close air support, limited interdiction, and counter-air operations, operated by the 18th Attack Squadron.

Major General Marion Sison, 3ID commander, conveyed his commitment to eradicating armed groups in Negros and reassured the public that no local residents were harmed during the airstrike.

“This effort reflects our commitment to decisively confront and neutralize the remnants of the insurgent forces, thereby safeguarding communities and promoting stable internal peace and security on Negros Island,” he added.

Samoza reported that clearing operations are currently underway, with efforts being made to restore, sustain, and maintain peace and order for the advancement towards stable internal peace and security in the province of Negros.


Meanwhile, the Roselyn Jean Pelle Command – Northern Negros Guerrilla Front of the NPA (RJPC-NPA) and the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command (AGC) – Negros Island Regional Operations Command condemned the Army’s air strike last Thursday evening, which they believe caused trauma to nearby residents.

Ka Maoche Legislador, AGC spokesperson, criticized the AFP in a statement released yesterday, saying, “It is both heartless and shameful for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to declare the NNF dismantled, and yet it continues to employ tactics such as aerial bombings to pursue rebel remnants.”

Ka Cecil Estrella, RJPC-NPA spokesperson, stated that the explosions could be heard kilometers away from the site, constituting a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

The RJPC-NPA previously denied the series of encounters in Escalante City, contrasting with the Army’s claims of legitimate military operations.

Human Rights Advocates Negros (HRAN) expressed deep concern about alleged indiscriminate attacks on farming communities in Escalante City due to the armed conflict.

The group, in its statement, claimed that the air strike operations led to the mass evacuation of over 300 families and the suspension of classes in nine barangays in Escalante City and Toboso town.

Based on accounts from local human rights defenders in Escalante City, HRAN reported significant disruptions caused by the attacks, which involved helicopters and artillery cannons, failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians, with any injuries or deaths among civilians considered “collateral damage.”

HRAN has pledged to investigate the identities of those allegedly killed in the firefight.


The 3ID has confirmed the identities of the three alleged NPA rebels killed in last Wednesday’s series of clashes in Escalante City.

Lieutenant Colonel J-jay Javines, head of the Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO) of the 3ID, identified the deceased as Emaryn Pastedio, also known as “Jandy,” Christopher Ebarle, alias “Michael,” and Jose Caramihan, alias “Jose.”

Javines explained that Pastedio, an alleged medic/cultural officer of the NNF-D, was previously arrested during an encounter in San Carlos City but was later released due to her minor status. In 2021, she reportedly abandoned her two-month-old baby in Talisay City while allegedly evading government forces; however, the infant was later rescued and placed under the care of the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO), eventually moving to a childcare institution.

Ebarle, Javines clarified, was among four siblings rescued by the 79th IB in Barangay Hilub-ang, Calatrava town, but he declined to be placed under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) custody, choosing instead to stay in the village.

Major General Marion Sison, 3ID commander, extended condolences to the families of the deceased and assured that support would be provided in coordination with the local government units (LGUs).

“While we extend our sympathies to the families of those killed, this incident underscores the consequences of refusing the path of peace. It signals what awaits those who persist in violence,” Sison said in a statement.

Sison remarked that the encounters between the military and the NNF-D remnants are indicative of the ongoing challenges posed by the NPA, as they strive to regain their lost mass bases across Negros Island.

He emphasized the Army’s vigilance and dedication to ensuring the safety and security of local communities and achieving the goal of establishing Stable Internal Peace and Security for the people of Negros.

He also expressed gratitude for the assistance of former NPA rebels and concerned LGUs in promptly identifying the deceased.

Sison reiterated his appeal to all remaining NPA leaders and members to reconsider their paths and peacefully reintegrate into society.