At least 30 families in Barangay Hanapol Norte, Balilihan were evacuated after Philippine Army troopers and New People’s Army (NPA) members clashed in the village on Thursday afternoon in what was the first armed encounter between state forces and rebels in the province’s first district in recent years.
Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Renoblas of the Balilihan Police Station said the exchange of gunfire lasted for 10 minutes as the armed rebels immediately retreated after clashing with soldiers of the 47th Infantry Battalion in Sitio Lusad, Purok 3 in Hanopol Norte at around 4:50 p.m.
Renoblas did not disclose the number of Army personnel who figured in the clash but noted that there were an estimated seven armed rebels.
There were no reported casualties during the encounter.
According to Hanapol Barangay Captain Teodico Mancha, some residents who were evacuated remained at the village’s barangay hall as of Friday morning.
Some evacuees stayed at Mancha’s house while others were accommodated by residents living near the barangay hall.
“Mo lapas 32 ka pamilya ang mga namakwit unya ang uban tua sa kasikbit na barangay sa Catigbian. Ang uban naa sa kilid-kilid sa barangay hall, dinhi pod sa akong balay,” said Mancha.
The residents were directed to stay near the barangay hall while state troopers continued to conduct clearing operations at the clash site.
Meanwhile, police were deployed to secure the barangay hall and surrounding areas.
“Ang police miingon namo na dili sa pabalikon sa area kay dili pa cleared. Maghuwat ra pod ang mga police kung unsa ang update sa Army,” he added.
According to Mancha, there had been no reported sightings of rebels in the village for a long time prior to the clash.
“Mura’g taod-taod na jud pod mi na wa miy nadungog na naay mga taga walhong grupo na nangari sa among barangay,” he said.
For his part, Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO) spokesperson Lt. Col. Joseph Berondo confirmed that the armed men were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed wing.
According to Berondo, the 47th Infantry Battalion and the BPPO continued to pursue the rebels and conduct clearing operations at the clash site.
This was the first reported clash between state forces and NPA rebels in the first district and the closest to the provincial capital of Tagbilaran City in at least a decade.
The province of Bohol, a former hotbed for communist guerilla activities, has been considered as insurgency-free since 2010.
However, sporadic clashes started to erupt in 2019 but these were confined in the hinterlands of the third district, particularly Bilar and Batuan.
In December 2022, Army troops and NPA rebels clashed also for the first time in the second district town of San Isidro. (A. Doydora)