BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
A member of a lawless group died yesterday in an encounter with Army soldiers in Brgy. Bi-ao, Binalbagan, following a gunbattle Tuesday with suspected New People’s Army rebels in Brgy.Carabalan, Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental.
Maj. Cenon Pancito, 3rd Infantry Division spokesman, identified the fatality in the Binalbagan encounter as Rico Pacorales, 44, of Brgy. Santol, Binalbagan.
Pancito said that 94th Infantry Battalion soldiers were conducting combat operations when they figured in an encounter with about 20 armed men in Sitio Binadlan, Brgy. Bi-ao, Binalbagan, at about 12:05 a.m. yesterday.
While scouring the encounter site, Pancito said the Army soldiers recovered a .45 caliber pistol, a .38 caliber revolver, a homemade 123 gauge shotgun, and two “katanas”, or Japanese swords.
The body of Pacorales, who was left behind by his fleeing companions, was recovered at the encounter site, he added.
However, the two other persons discovered at the encounter site were later released after Army soldiers established that they were not connected with the armed group, Pancito also said.
He also said that the 94IB is still in the process of establishing if the armed men belong to a lawless group existing in the area as it appears that they are not NPA rebels
On Tuesday, soldiers of the 94IB also encountered five suspected NPA rebels in SitioTigbao, Brgy, Carabalan, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental.
Pancito said the encounter lasted for about five minutes, after which the communist rebels fled in separate directions, leaving behind a .45 caliber pistol with a magazine containing six ammunition, rain boots and a civilian cap.
The two encounters took place after the 62nd Infantry Battalion and local police arrested four suspected NPA rebels at a checkpoint in Brgy. Montilla, Moises Padilla, that also yielded a .45 caliber pistol and four M-203 grenade launcher 40mm ammunition.
However, the National Democratic Front- Negros yesterday issued a statement that one of the alleged NPA rebels arrested, WilmarPongasi, is a convenor of the Kabataan Para sa Karapatan- Negros, a network of young human rights defenders.
NDF-Negros spokesperson Ka Bayani Obrero claimed that Pongasi, accompanied by Jovannie Bohol, a Cebu-based local peasant organizer, and two habal-habal drivers, were on their way to conduct research on the ground in response to reports of a series of human rights violations in central Negros.
Obrero also accused the government troops of planting the firearms and explosives.*