Panay troops step up drive vs. rebels (Philippines)

ILOILO CITY - Government troops on Panay Island have stepped up their counter-insurgency efforts following the burning of a delivery van of a cigaret company by suspected communist rebels in Lambunao town, Iloilo.


Col. John Bonafos, Task Force Panay commander, said their efforts against the rebels would be more "aggressive" because of Malacañang's call to heighten the government's campaign against the rebels and because of expected additional funds for their operations.

TFP is in-charge of internal security operations on Panay Island. "We urge the people to continue cooperating with us (against the rebels)," Bonafos said in a telephone interview.
He said they welcomed the President's announcement that the government will release P1 billion for additional military equipment and to fund the campaign.

"Additional troops and equipment will help us cover areas that we previously could not because of limited personnel," Bonafos said.

But he downplayed the rebel's strength on Panay Island, saying, "Periodic attacks of the rebels are just meant to show that they are still present."

Suspected New People's Army rebels burned a delivery van of cigaret-maker Fortune Tobacco in Lambunao town, 45 kms northwest of Iloilo City on Saturday, a day after the President's announcement of renewed drive against the communists.

The suspects destroyed the van worth P450,000 and cigarets worth P400,000.
Citing a report, PO3 Alexander Lauron of the Lambunao police station said three men approached salesman Jesus Tan and driver Isidro Te while the two were delivering supplies to a store in Barangay Tranghawan.
The men pretended to be customers and asked the two to deliver cigaret supplies to the hinterland village of Jayubo.

When Tan declined because the village was out of their route, one of the suspects made him read a piece of paper where the men identified themselves as NPA rebels and instructed the two to follow instructions and assured them of their safety.

The suspects who later showed handguns told them they were only after the cigaret company.
The suspects instructed the driver to proceed to Barangay Jayubo but one of the suspects took over the driving along the route.

When the van reached Barangay Pasig, another person with a container believed to contain gasoline met them.

The suspects released the driver and salesman unharmed with their personal belongings and sales. But they took their cellphone batteries before burning the van and its load.

The suspects are believed to be part of the NPA's Jose Percival Estocada Command which operates in areas in central Panay. It is believed to be the same rebel unit that killed nine soldiers and wounded 18 others in an ambush using landmines in the neighboring town of Calinog last November.

Von: 20.6.2006

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