Rebels pull one over cops conducts checkpoint in iloilo town

HEAVILY-armed New People’s Army members freely roam Barangay San Jose, a village more or less 15 kilometers from Miag-ao town in Iloilo. They later conducted a checkpoint in the area. (Contributed photo)

SUSPECTED members of the New People’s Army (NPA) stormed a hinterland village of Miag-ao, Iloilo in what was perceived as a show of force.

The rebel incursion happened as the Iloilo Police Provincial Office focused its efforts on unverified reports of vote buying and other election-related incidents in the province since Monday.

Closed circuit TV camera footage showed around 12 persons brandishing high-powered firearms and freely roaming Barangay San Jose, a village more or less 15 kilometers from Miag-ao town.

Witnesses said the rebels, who wore black sweatshirts and PNP athletics uniforms, passed by the area at around 9:45 a.m. of May 8, 2019.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Joem Malong, Police Regional Office 6 (PRO-6) spokesperson, said the rebels allegedly conducted a quick checkpoint near Barangay San Jose cemetery.

They then dismantled several campaign posters of candidates posted on a school fence.

However, they left untouched campaign posters of candidates belonging to the Makabayan Bloc.

“But we’re still checking that report,” she said.

Malong surmised that the NPA presence in the area was nothing but a show of force on the part of the rebels. 

“It’s bait for us to respond and when we do, they will position themselves to ambush our troops,” she said.

In the meantime, Malong reiterated an earlier instruction from the PNP national headquarters on the use of PNP athletics uniform for the duration of the election period.

“This is because we have received information of a bulk purchase of PNP athletics uniforms a few months ago,” Malong said.

Police Captain Antonio Monreal, Iloilo Police Provincial Office (IPPO) spokesman, said the provincial command already told police officers to strengthen their security preparedness.

“They should be on their toes. They should be circumspect enough to know and avoid the deception of the NPA,” he said.

Lt. Colonel Joel Benedict Batara, 61st Infantry Battalion commander, said the group of armed men could be members of the Suyak Platoon of the NPA’s Komiteng Rehiyon Panay-Southern Front Committee led by Joven Ceralvo alias Lex.

Batara noted that half of the armed persons were around 15 to 17 years old. 

Most of them were carrying M16 armalite rifles while one person was armed with an M203 grenade launcher.

“Some of the residents were traumatized because of what happened because they were checked as they were passing the area where the NPAs positioned themselves,” Batara said.

He added they are checking if the incident was politically motivated given the fact that the armed men were favoring some candidates.