FAST BACKWARD: Massacre in Caraga

Amid the atrocities performed by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Davao region, hun-dreds of innocent individuals became victims of insurgency. Among those traitorously killed or assassinated were city cops, politicians, suspected informants, and government troops.

But the government, on October 3, 1985, got its revenge. A platoon of Philippine Con-stabulary and Army troops, with support from the militiamen and Mandaya tribesmen, am-bushed a 200-strong rebel group at sitio Sangab, Pichon, Caraga, Davao Oriental.

The joint command was led by Capt. Peter Sumondong of the Army’s Home Defense Forces Group, who injured in the encounter. The waylay led to the massacre of three notori-ous rebel field commanders and twenty-seven of their men.

A military press statement identified the slain rebel leaders as Alexander Navarro, com-manding officer of 234th Secondary Regional Guerrilla Unit (SRGU) of the CPP-NPA-NDF, who was known as Commander Saulo; and Pablo Estander, also known as Commander Ramil; and Joel Fernandez, alias Commander Karim, members of the SRGU’s Operational Command.

The ambush took place while the commanders and their men were about to converge for the Front 15 plenum, which would have gathered insurgents from the municipalities of the towns of Tarragona, Manay, Baganga, and Caraga.

Lt. Col. Carlos I. Peña, Davao Oriental provincial commander, acted on time upon receipt of information there was an unusually large insurgent groups about to converge in a remote Caraga location. He organized two platoons to intercept them, one led by Capt. Binang Hadjiril, commander of the 433rd PC Company who positioned his troops on a hill hours be-fore the NPAs arrived. The units also sealed all possible exits.

A reinforcement of PC and Marine troops led by M/Sgt. Isaias Silvestre, Jr., a Medal of Valor awardee and the ‘hero of Calapagan,’ was sent to hunt down fleeing rebels who were reported to have escaped to the fringes of barangay Calapagan, in the town of Lupon.

An informant who joined the government during the encounter reported that what was left of the NPAs fled to sitio Tinaan, an NPA redoubt roughly 36 kilometers from the ambush site. Efforts to locate the fortified rebel camp by helicopter fly-over, however, failed.

Calapagan is the same place where a total of fifty-three rebels, cornered and outfought, were annihilated by Army servicemen in May 1985. This was one of the biggest loss of the insurgency since it strategically controlled most of Davao region.

Seized in the aftermath of the 15-minute ambuscade were an M-70 grenade launcher, a caliber .30 Browning automatic rifle (BAR), caliber .30 rifle, medical supplies, documents, and briefing charts for use in the supposed plenary.

Also recovered from the ambush scene were a dump truck commandeered from a logging firm accused of contributing P60,000 and forty sacks of rice monthly to the rebel movement, a motorcycle, and a Land Cruiser pick-up.

In a statement, Brig. Gen. Dionisio Tan-Gatue, PC regional commander, announced that the three fallen rebel commanders were among in the government’s wanted list, saying the same unit was also involved in the arms and explosives raid of the Apex Mining compound in Maco, Davao de Oro, and the twin assaults of the 41st and 17th Army detachments, also in the same province.

Due to the clash, Mandaya residents of the sitios of Sangab, Palaylasan, Langawitan, and Tagalongdong had to make forced evacuation. Red Cross and military teams supported the evacuees, whose livestock and poultry were depleted by rebel raids, with medicines and food.

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