By Jonas Cabiles Soltes and Mar Arguelles
Inquirer Southern Luzon
NAGA CITY, Philippines—Two soldiers were killed and four others were wounded in a firefight between government troops and suspected communist rebels in a remote village in Bulusan, Sorsogon on Thursday, the military said.
The military claimed five rebels died in the firefight but the National Democratic Front in Bicol, in a statement sent by text message, claimed there was no casualty on their side.
Major Angelo Guzman, public information officer of the Army in Bicol, said the clash occurred at around 10 a.m. in the far-flung Barangay San Isidro and involved around 45 suspected members of the New People’s Army.
He said killed were Pfc. Romy Dacuro, who died on the spot, and Pfc. Michael Bigay, who was pronounced dead on arrival at the Sorsogon Doctors Hospital.
Guzman identified the critically wounded as Pfc. Jaypee Retardo who was immediately airlifted by the Philippine Air Force to the V. Luna Medical Hospital in Quezon City.
The three other injured soldiers were brought to the SDH were declared out of danger. They were Cpl. Rolando Cruzado, Pfc. Gilbert Llandelar and Pfc. Ryan Royales, all of the 31st Infantry Battalion.
Major Harold Cabunoc, deputy spokesperson of the Army, said in a phone interview that soldiers led by Lt. Abdul Hamid Salik were sent to check a reported communist camp in San Isidro when the 20-minute firefight erupted.
He said Salik reported that at least five rebels died in the clash and their bodies carried away by their retreating comrades.
Greg Bañares, National Democratic Front Bicol spokesman, in a text message Friday however, maintained no one died among NPA cadres involved in the firefight.
Cabunoc, quoting Col. Theody Toribio, commanding officer of the 31st IB, said the NPA rebels were in an advantageous point as they were positioned at a higher ground when the firefight occurred.
“My men were approaching the bushy portion of the area in Sitio Kaprikunan when they were met with fires, triggering an intense gun battle,” said Toribio, as quoted by Cabunoc.
Col. Felix Castro Jr., commander of the 903rd Infantry Brigade in Sorsogon, said they were fortunate their request to immediately airlift Retardo was made possible.
Guzman said the rebels involved in the clash were an “elite force” of the NPA who were using at least four machine guns.
Banares, on the other hand, maintained they have “scored against the government forces.”