Members of the group of suspected high-ranking New People’s Army (NPA) commander Domingo “Cobra” Compoc may have been the ones who clashed with Philippine Army troops in a remote and forested area in Batuan late Thursday morning, a Bohol-based PA official said.
“Posibli. Wa may lain grupo na galihok-lihok karon,” said 1st Lieutenant Elma Grace Remonde, civil military officer of the 47th Infantry Battalion (IB).
Remonde also did not discount the possibility that Compoc himself was among the estimated four gunmen who engaged state forces in a gunfight.
The encounter between the 47th IB and the armed men erupted late Thursday morning in Barangay Rizal, Batuan, which is less than five kilometers away from Campagao, Bilar where suspected armed insurgents believed to have been led by Compoc clashed with the same battalion in May, 2018.
Army Brig. Gen. Ignacio Madriaga, who was then the highest-ranking Army official in Bohol, said after the 2018 Campagao clash that Compoc and his security forces were the only lawless elements monitored to be moving around in the area.
However, the recent skirmish in Rizal continued to be investigated with both the Army and the police still not able to confirm if the armed men were indeed leftist guerrillas.
“Sa pagkakaron wa pay nagconfirm kung membro ba g’yud ni sila og New People’s Army or pila-pila lang na mga armado lang na naabut sa Rizal,” said Remonde.
Both the army and the Bohol Provincial Police Office launched a hot pursuit operation against the armed men on Thursday morning but BPPO director Col. Jonathan Cabal said that he was planning to pull out his forces from Batuan on Friday afternoon.
“Nandun pa yung tropa pero baka mamaya e-pull out na yun,”said Cabal.
Cabal on Thursday deployed the Special Action Force and other heavily armed police units in Batuan and nearby areas following the clash.
He earlier speculated that the gunmen could be NPA rebels but later changed his tune as he downplayed the incident saying that they did not find any evidence in the area where the alleged gunfight erupted to prove that they were indeed insurgents.
“We were not able to get any subversive documents or any shells or anything,” Cabal said.
Meanwhile, Remonde said that at least one of the alleged rebels may have been injured during the gunfight as Army troops found traces of blood at the clash site.
None of the state troopers were injured.
“Sa enemy side, makaingon ta na naay silay wounded based sa tracks sa dugo na nasundan sa atong mga kasundaluhan,” she said.
According to Remonde, the 47th IB deployed troops to Rizal after they received reports from concerned citizens indicating alleged sightings of unidentified armed men in Rizal.
“Kaning mga report gimonitor sa atong kapulisan ug kasundaluhan hantod na nakakuha og conclusion na naay nakita na mga armado or lawless elements didto. Mao to giadtoan dayon, girespondehan so negresulta siya og encounter,” she said.
In the May, 2018 clash in Campagao, Bilar, the alleged rebels were also spotted by forces of the 47th IB after residents reported sightings of armed men during the celebration of the town’s fiesta.
Madriaga previously said that Compoc was spotted by several concerned citizens as he was going around the Bilar hinterlands on days leading to the town’s fiesta, urging old NPA comrades to rejoin the rebel group.
The residents reported Compoc’s sighting to authorities leading to the hour-long encounter between state security forces and the suspected NPA group.
“Feeling secure siya, but he found out na hindi pala, kasi ang mga nagsumbong sa kanya yung mga kababayan niya diyan sa Bilar na ayaw nila yung activities niya,” said Madriaga in a 2018 interview.
Compoc has a P2.6-million bounty on his head, dead or alive.