The Philippine Army (PA) and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels clashed in a remote village in Batuan on Saturday night in what was the second encounter between state forces and an armed group in the province in less than two weeks.
First Lieutenant Grace Remonde, civil military officer of the PA’s 47th IB, said soldiers of the battalion were fired upon by a still undetermined number of armed men in Barangay Upper Cabacnitan resulting in a five-minute firefight at past 6 p.m.
No one was reported injured during the brief encounter.
According to Remonde, the state forces were unable to determine if they were indeed rebels as there was no visual contact with the armed men when the clash erupted at night amid thick vegetation and mountainous terrain.
Examination of the clash site for spent bullet shells and other possible evidence such as subversive documents was also set to start only this morning for safety reasons and lack of light right after the clash on Saturday night.
The army officer however did not discount the likelihood that the gunmen were indeed NPA rebels as the encounter broke out just a few kilometers away from the state forces’ previous clash with insurgents in the adjacent village of Cambigsi, Bilar on April 26.
Remonde said that the NPA has been trying to reestablish a stronghold in the province but have not been able to successfully do as they have not been gaining the support and sympathy of villagers who have been reporting their sightings and alleged harassment to the authorities.
“Nibalik sila sa Bohol kay gusto nila e-recover ang balikl pero sa pagkakaron dili maingon na organized na sila, ginagmay pa ni sila,” Remonde said.
The insurgents were seen to have been taking advantage of the coronavirus disease (COVID) 19 pandemic which has pushed government authorities including the military to focus on relief operations.
“Ilahang effort karon, nag-take advantage sila kay nagka-busy man gud ta sa COVID,” she added.
The Army however assured the public that the NPA’s presence in Bohol remained minimal and not enough to invalidate the province’s current insurgency-free status.
Remonde said that they are looking at the encounters as positive signs considering that these mostly resulted from information gathered from villagers who reported the armed men’s whereabouts and activities.
“Assessment namo mahina sila, kay ato lang basehan ang mga sunod-sunod na encounter diri sa Bohol…pasabot abtik na ang mga civilian mo report,” she said.
Bohol was declared insurgency-free in 2010. Before that, the province was deemed a hotbed of the communist underground.
There had been no major clashes between state forces and the NPA in the province in the past decade but encounters have again started to erupt in the past few months with one firefight on February 29 that left one soldier and one rebel dead.
The clash in Cambigsi, Bilar in February was the first time in recent years that an armed encounter between government troops and suspected rebels in the province resulted in deaths.