The soldiers of the 24th IB and the 72nd Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) who were ambushed in a back-to-back offensive by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Abra last January 4 have faced complaints about a string of abuses, being branded as thieves by Abrenio masses.
In April last year, soldiers from the said units stole a resident’s cow in Barangay Guinguinabang in Lacub and butchered the animal. Before the incident, the culprits ransacked the quarters of small-scale miners, stole their personal belongings, and burned their equipment. The soldiers also razed a large portion of the forest between the towns of Lacub and Malibcong.
Aside from thievery, residents also lament many other abuses by the 24th IB and the 72nd DRC, whose operations ran for close to a year in 2020 and targeted villages in Malibcong, Lacub, Tineg, Sallapadan, Boliney, and Tubo in Abra. Their abuses stem from the combat operations and prolonged occupation of their villages under the so-called Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP).
Villages and Igorot communities occupied by RCSP teams have been made to suffer illegal arrests and detention of civilians accused as members of the NPA, forced surrenders of residents presented as rebels, and continued harassment of community leaders and activists, among others. Residents also complain of spreading malicious intrigues to create disunity among neighbors. Curfews are imposed, hindering the residents to tend to their farms. In February last year, four youths from Barangay Lanag in Lacub were fired upon.
The January 4 strikes were carried out in a forested area of Barangay Pacqued in Malibcong, at 8:30 a.m.. Martin Montana of the NPA-Ilocos Cordillera Region said that nine soldiers were killed and several others were wounded in the clashes. Only a single casualty was announced by the military — 2Lt Zaldy Lapis, Jr. of the 72nd DRC.
In a separate statement, Florencio Baluga of the NPA-Abra said that their fighters operated with speed, secrecy and surprise in order to get near the exhausted enemy unit which has been scouring the area since December 22. At 2:30 p.m., a reinforcing Philippine Air Force helicopter was fired upon by the NPA unit. The Red fighters were able to withdraw safely.
The offensives come after the Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command announcement in November 2020 that the military is close to “eradicating” the revolutionary forces in northern Luzon.
Baluga said that the intention of the military’s terror campaign in Abra’s villages is to facilitate the entry of largescale mining companies in the province, and dam projects in Binongan River, Tineg River, and Abra River. Military units dispatched to the areas serve as company guards quelling resistance from the communities defending their ancestral lands.
After incurring casualties, newly-acquired Super Tucano bomber planes dropped no less than 23 bombs from January 5 to 7, destroying forest vegetation and farm lots near Pacqued and Mataragan in Malibcong and Buneg in Lacub. A civilian identified as Cabanting from Buneg was illegally arrested.