A firefight between government troops and armed men believed to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels erupted here on Tuesday morning, hours after the May 14 elections, and disrupted preparations for the town fiesta.
Amelita Decasa, 47, and her husband Gil, 41, said they woke up early to prepare food for the town fiesta, but they heard gunshots at around 5:05 a.m. in Sitio Ilaud, Barangay Campagao, Bilar City, Bohol.
The Decasas and other families left the area soon after.
Col. Ignacio Madriaga, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, said the troops were conducting post-election operations in the area when they responded to reports that there were armed men roaming around the village asking for food.
He clarified that the encounter did not affect the elections in the village, as the winners have been proclaimed before the encounter.
The firefight started at around 5:05 a.m. and ended at 5:54 a.m. No casualties have been reported from either side, though two soldiers were reportedly hit in the hand and cheek.
Madriaga said the NPA would always try to re-establish their presence in the province. “Bohol will always be threatened, they will always try to regain their influence here,” he said.
He added that the armed men were out to gain sympathy from residents, reconnect with old comrades, and ultimately re-establish a stronghold in the province, which they enjoyed in the 1990s.
Madriaga revealed that the 14 armed men were security forces of NPA leader Domingo Compoc, a native of Barangay Dagohoy in Bilar town, who is wanted for murder and rebellion.
The government has offered a reward of P2.6 million for his capture, “dead or alive.”
Madriaga said Compoc was spotted by several concerned citizens roaming around the Bilar hinterlands urging old NPA comrades to rejoin the rebel group a few days before the town fiesta.
“I think nandun siya kanina kasama yung (I think he was with the) 14 armed men,” he said. The residents’ report led to the hour-long firefight on Tuesday.
Madriaga said the villagers were allowed to return to their houses on Tuesday afternoon.
“Okay na…they are safe na kaya tuloy na ang fiesta (It’s now safe so the fiesta will push through),” he said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bilar have set up checkpoints to ensure safety of the residents during the festivities.
Bohol has been considered insurgency-free for over a decade. Last February, alleged NPA members visited several houses in a remote village in Sevilla town in an apparent effort to gain the sympathy of villagers.
Despite various reports of NPA activities, Madriaga said the province still meets the requirements needed to be considered insurgency-free.