By Martin Sadongdong
The leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday stood firm on a regional military unit’s previous account that New People’s Army (NPA) rebels seized relief goods intended for residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
The Philippine Army’s Samar-based 8th Infantry Division (8ID) under the command of Major General Pio Dinoso said in a press release last week that around 30 communist rebels attacked village officials distributing relief assistance at Sitio Nagon in Barangay Guinmayohan last April 7.
According to the regional military unit, the NPA group led by a certain Gavino Guarino alias Mael forcibly took away a “portion” of relief aid from the village officials.
However, Balangiga Mayor Randy Graza denied that such incident happened. He said in a statement on April 11 that the local government has not received any report of communist harassment in the municipality.
“The AFP stands firm on our account of the incident and earlier statements,” said Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson.
According to Arevalo, the incident was validated by Dinoso himself and the report was submitted to the AFP General headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
He also claimed that Mayor Graza, in a recent development, admitted that NPAs indeed took a portion of relief goods intended for the Balangiga residents.
Relatedly, the Balangiga Municipal Peace and Order Council has adopted a resolution on Monday, April 13, condemning the NPA for its “confiscation” of relief goods from local officials of Barangay Guinmayohan.
“Whereas, the AFP officials stated that the word ‘robbery’ or ‘forcibly taken’ may have been too strong in describing what happened but the fact remains that the residents were forced to give a portion of their relief (half sack of rice) to the NPA,” part of the resolution read.
Arevalo reiterated the willingness of the AFP to assist the local government units in the distribution of relief packs “even to the members of the NPA if they will seek aid from the government.”
He added the military could also provide security in the distribution of amelioration program to communities if local officials request for assistance.
“This is to ensure that the money intended for the people really gets to the beneficiaries and not to unscrupulous groups like the terrorist-extortionist NPA,” Arevalo said.