By Martin Sadongdong
Ranking officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday defended a joint operation in Antique recently which resulted in the deaths of seven suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA), an operation labeled as a “massacre” by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, regional director of the Western Visayas Police Regional Office (PRO-6), reiterated that the joint police and military offensive at Barangay Atabay, San Jose, Antique on Wednesday was a legitimate operation.
“Our men have warrants of arrest. The overwhelming pieces of evidence recovered speak for itself. We all know how brutal NPA guerillas are in killing government personnel even those involved in search and rescue operations, medical and SOCO personnel who are noncombatants are being ambushed,” he said.
Bulalacao’s statement came after Concha Araneta, spokesperson of the NDFP-Panay, slammed the operation of police and the military saying it was a massacre and not an armed encounter.
“No encounter took place… It was a massacre planned and executed by the criminal and fascist 301st Brigade, 61st IB [Infantry Battalion], Antique and San Jose PNP. Their blood is on the hands of the fascist mercenary military and police in Panay,” she said.
Araneta said the slain individuals were legitimate personnel of the office of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and NDF in Panay and were noncombatants.
“They have been conducting researches and investigations concerning the situation of the people in different areas of Panay, not for the purpose of fighting nor to launch tactical offensives but in order to deeply and concretely study the problems and concerns of the masses in the region,” she claimed.
Those killed, Karen Ceralvo, Felix Salditos, Jason Sanchez, Rene Yap, Liezl Bandiola, Jason Talibo and a still unidentified comrade were said to be members of the NPA under the Napoleon Tumagtang Command Southern Front.
She also said the firearms recovered by the troops were planted while pointing out that if the operating troops were to serve a warrant of arrest, they could have done it in the daylight and not in the middle of the night.
The troops, armed with a warrant of arrest against Talibo and a certain Joven Ceralbo for murder, implemented the arrest around 12:10 a.m.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Dinoh Dolina, commander of the third Infantry Division (3ID) of the Philippine Army based in the area, insisted the operation was part of their campaign to end the alleged extortion activities of the group.
“The 3ID is expressing its fervent desire to address the extortion activities of this terrorist organization by holding a dialogue with the contractors of infrastructure and development projects in Panay,” he said.
Authorities earlier tagged the slain suspects in extortion racket in the province. This, after subversive documents and extortion letters bearing the letterhead of the NPA were recovered from them after the operation.