CAMARINES NORTE, Philippines – Army troops clashed with communist guerrillas in a fierce gunbattle that killed two rebels and two children who were with the insurgents in a village in Labo town here Saturday afternoon, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Josue Gaverza Jr., regional military commander, said he has ordered an investigation to determine if the soldiers committed lapses that led to the deaths of the two boys, aged seven and 10, and the wounding of their sister during the clash in Malaya village.
The three, who were believed to be children of one of the slain rebels, were hit in the crossfire, Gaverza said.
A platoon of soldiers of the 49th Infantry Battalion traveled to the village after being tipped off by residents that New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas had arrived in the area in search of food and to extort money.
As they approached, about 15 guerrillas opened fire from a hut and a nearby hill, sparking a brief but intense gunbattle, said Lt. Col. Epimaco Macasilang, commanding officer of the 49th IB.
After the outnumbered guerrillas withdrew, troops found the bodies of the two rebels and the boys in the hut. The boys’ 14-year-old sister was also found in the hut with a gunshot wound in her wrist and was taken to the hospital, Army officials said.
The slain rebels were identified as Rafael Llanto, second highest leader of the regional guerrilla unit, and Benjamin Manzera, 54.
The two boys were identified as Michael Manzera, 10, and his brother Richard, seven. They were reportedly the children of the slain rebel.
Gaverza said he was saddened that the children were caught in the crossfire.
Regional Army spokesman Maj. Angelo Guzman said the soldiers were unaware there were children in the hut, where some rebels were firing from and two rifles were later found. It was not immediately clear who hit the children, he said.
More than 120,000 combatants and civilians have been killed in the 43-year insurgency, one of Asia’s longest. The rural-based rebellion has endured amid widespread poverty, landlessness and faulty governance in the country’s poor countryside.
The NPA, estimated to have slightly more than 4,000 fighters, killed about 100 soldiers and policemen and waged 447 attacks last year despite a steady but considerable weakening of the insurgency, the military said. – Francis Elevado, Alexis Romero, Celso Amo, AP -