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9 killed, 9 wounded in suspected NPA ambush in Negros

SOCO elements are seen at work at the ambush scene in La Castellana. Nine people were killed, mostly civilians, in the early Sunday attack allegedly by the NPA. PHOTO COURTESY OF NEGROS POLICE PROVINCIAL OFFICE
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BACOLOD CITY, Philippines - Nine persons were killed, among them a policeman and village watchmen, in an ambush by suspected members of the New People’s Army in the central Negros Occidental town of La Castellana early Sunday morning.

The victims were waylaid around 4 a.m. as they were being ferried home in a truck from a benefit dance in the hinterland village of Puso.

The dead were identified as Police Officer 1 Richard Canja; Teotimo Esplegera and Mario Ricablanca, both members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team; the driver, Ricky Dingcong; Lito Lucban, Jonathan Mateo, Ulysses Tamayor, Ramil Complesa, and the lone woman fatality, Virgenia Ordoñez, according to Puso barangay captain Florencio Nellis, local radio station dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod and

Wounded were PO3 Constantino Villegas, PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez, Bonifacio Bayate, Cristoto Perolino, Jerry Lacquedo, Roger Bajar, Jamil Roma, Victoriano Donasco, Jason Ocsimar, all residents of barangay Cabacungan.

Nellis said two members of the Puso auxiliary police -- Edwin Sevilla and Verino Ordoñez -- escaped unscathed.

Sevilla told Nellis he heard the gunmen shout “mabuhay ang NPA (Long live the NPA)” after they rained down automatic rifle fire on the truck.

Nellis said he was also supposed to ride the truck but backed off at the last minute.  

“There could be several more who are dead,” the town police chief, Senior Insp. Gary Allan, said noting that some of the wounded who were rushed to two hospitals were in serious condition.

Nellis told the truck was ferrying the three policemen and at least 20 members of the auxiliary police who had been securing the fiesta in Puso for the past three days to Cabacungan, where a police sub-station is located.

Policemen found spent M16 and M14 shells at the ambush site, a downhill section of a road cutting across sugarcane fields just 700 meters from where the benefit dance was held.

The gunmen opened fire as the truck slowed down to negotiate the slope, an indication they had carefully prepared the ambush, Nellis said.

Puso is located at least 20 kilometers from La Castellana town proper and borders the cities of Guihulngan and Canlaon in Oriental Negros.

La Castellana Mayor Alberto Nicor Jr. told dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod he was “saddened” by the incident.

Negros Occidental board member Dino Yulo, who represents the fifth district that includes La Castellana, called the incident cause for “serious concern” since it is the second in as many months and, “more importantly, civilians are again innocent victims.”

On December 14, NPA guerrillas and Army soldiers clashed in the upland village of San Agustin in Isabela town, around 78 kilometers from here.

Two soldiers were killed and four others wounded.

The military said 19 rebels were captured but human rights advocates and even National Commission for Indigenous People said they were members of a local tribe.

Sunday’s ambush is not the first time in recent years that civilians have been killed in armed actions of the NPA.

In July 2009, three persons were killed and four others wounded when about 20 rebels ambushed civilians, some of them students on their way to school, in the village of Poblacion in the northern Negros Occidental town of Toboso.

The NPA admitted the incident was a mistake, and Negros rebel leader Frank Fernandez apologized to the victims’ families, promising an investigation by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA command in Negros.

It is not known, however, what action the NPA took against the commanders and fighters who took part in the incident.