STATE OF CALAMITY DECLARED: Alleged rebel leader killed in fifth Himamaylan clash

(Photo courtesy of 303rd IBde)

By Glazyl Y. Masculino

BACOLOD City – The fifth clash between the Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion (IB) and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) in Barangay Carabalan, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, claimed the life of an alleged rebel leader in Negros island last Monday.

The Army considered the death of Romeo Nanta with aliases “Juanito Magbanua,” “Juaning,” and “Jack,” as a big blow to the NPA, as he was tagged in various atrocities allegedly aimed to intimidate businesses, quarry operators, contractors, local officials, and agrarian reform beneficiaries in Negros island to give in to their extortion demands.

Brigadier General Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IBde), said that Nanta was the commander of the Regional Operational Command of the Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros and the spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command (AGC).

He added that Nanta was allegedly overseeing the rebels’ military operations in Negros island.

According to the Army, Nanta was arrested in 2011 for criminal cases such as murder, frustrated murder, robbery, and damage to properties, but was reportedly bailed out by front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA-National Democratic Front (NDF) in Negros.

The Army also said that Nanta was allegedly directly and indirectly responsible for the death of soldiers, policemen, members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Active Auxiliary (CAA), and innocent civilians.

He was also linked to the ambush of policemen in Binalbagan town early this year wherein two cops were wounded.

Military troopers of the 94th IB were conducting pursuit operations against the fleeing enemies from the series of clashes in the said village since Oct. 6, when they engaged in a 10-minute firefight with at least 10 armed men at Sitio Medel last Monday.

Pasaporte commended the efforts of the 94th IB headed by Lieutenant Colonel Van Donald Almonte in tracking the armed NPA rebels who have splintered into small groups in the area and eventually catching up with the head of the regional operational command of the NPA in Negros island.

This, despite the 94th IB losing two personnel in the Oct. 8 clash in the said village.

Pasaporte said that the remains of Corporal Christian Drilon, a native of San Enrique, Iloilo, and Corporal Rex Verde, a native of Guimaras were already transported to their respective hometowns yesterday, while the six wounded soldiers are now stable at a private hospital here.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) said in a statement that the death of Nanta will create a major setback on the “terroristic plans and activities” of the group in Negros island.

“His death will surely bring a domino effect on the leadership, “terroristic operations,” and plans of the communist rebels in Negros, said Major General Benedict Arevalo, 3ID commander, adding that demoralization within the ranks of the NPA under Nanta’s command is also expected.

Arevalo said the NPA rebels are now on the brink of downfall following the surrender and death of their members and leaders in Negros.

“We will not stop hunting them to fulfill the Negrenses’ desire for a Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA-free community, Arevalo said, as he warned them that “before it will be too late for them, they must lay down their firearms and surrender peacefully.”

In a statement dated Oct. 11, the AGC-NPA, slammed the Army for allegedly continuing to repress the truth from the people and spin the story in their favor.

“How could there be an encounter when there was no NPA unit in the area at the time?” the group asked.

The rebel group said that it was a “cold-blooded murder, and not an encounter,” as they claimed that Nanta was summarily killed after he was captured in the area.

“This is a day of mourning for all comrades, revolutionary forces, friends and family and especially the exploited and oppressed masses, not only in Negros but the whole country,” the group said in a statement.

The rebel group said that “Ka JM”, who was suffering from hypertension and arthritis, chose to stay at Sitio Medel to closely monitor the situation of the masses while the NPA unit maneuvered away from the area after the Oct. 6 encounter.

“Ka JM” understood best what it meant to commit to serving the people and it is upon the revolutionary ranks to follow his example and wholeheartedly persevere in the revolutionary struggle, the statement said.

The rebel group stressed that “Ka JM” should have been accorded the status of hors de combat (combatants who are not in a position to fight).

The AGC-NPA Negros, with the entire revolutionary movement, vowed to exact justice for the death of “Ka Juanito Magbanua.”

In response, Pasaporte said the Oct. 10 encounter was a legitimate operation of the 94th IB, as he received the report from the troopers on the ground.

With Nanta’s death, Pasaporte said they are expecting that the NPA will take revenge, but he assured that the Army in Negros is prepared to engage in battle.

Despite the series of clashes in Barangay Carabalan, Pasaporte assured the residents of their safety as the military is on top of the situation.

State of calamity

Following the series of armed encounters in the said barangay, the local government of Himamaylan City declared a state of calamity last Monday.

Members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod have declared the entire city under a state of calamity during its special session, upon the recommendation of Mayor Raymund Tongson and the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC).

This, after more than 13,000 individuals or more than 10 percent of the city’s population which is 110,000 were affected by the encounters, based on the record of the city government.

Vice Mayor Justin Gatuslao said that one whole barangay is on lockdown due to the pursuit operations of the Philippine Army.

By declaring the city under a state of calamity, the local government is allowed to utilize the Quick Response Fund and enables the release of national calamity funds to agencies involved in relief operations.

Currently, the city has P13 million in quick response funds, a portion of which will be allocated for the man-made calamity, which is now on the sixth day, Gatuslao said.