Around 120 families have fled their homes in the remote sitios of Naupao, Malmag and Mahalang, all of Brgy. San Pedro, and Lamboanon in Brgy. Fatima, Sta. Catalina town, Negros Oriental, when sporadic fighting erupted between Philippine Army troops and suspected members of the New People’s Army this week.
Lt. Col. Marion Sison, commander of the 79th Infantry Battalion, said yesterday in a telephone interview, that the families evacuated to safer grounds to avoid being caught in the crossfire or hit by stray bullets, as soldiers relentlessly pursued armed men believed to be rebels from the Komiteng Rehiyon Sentral Bisayas-South East Front.
He added that the Social Welfare and Development Office in Sta. Catalina has been called to provide assistance to the evacuees.
Two soldiers have been killed in action while another was wounded in running gun-battles and intense fighting since Monday, at the height of the elections, Sison said.
On Wednesday, a 14 to 18-year-old girl was reportedly injured, and a 20-year-old man killed in fresh fighting in the mountains of Sta. Catalina. Both are still unidentified but are believed to be NPA members, Sison said.
The body of the man that was abandoned, was retrieved by soldiers and turned over to the barangay captain of San Francisco, Sta. Catalina, he added.
The girl is believed to be seriously wounded as evidenced by the trail of blood in the encounter site. The rebels could have brought her with them, Sison said.
The 79th IB, reinforced with helicopter gunships, have launched a tactical offensive against the armed group after alleged plans by the NPA to disrupt the elections were uncovered, Sison said.
The sporadic fighting took place in adjacent areas of Milagrosa, Nagbalaye and San Francisco in Sta. Catalina.
Meanwhile, Fr. Mark Vilos of the San Francisco Parish said the families who fled, left behind their farms, agricultural crops and livestock for fear of their lives.
He said the displaced families, many from Sitio Lambuanon in San Francisco, were told to leave and are allegedly not allowed to return yet, pending the clearing operations by soldiers.
Vilos also said local officials want to bury the unidentified dead man, but the military said his family should claim the body.*JFP
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