PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – The military has confirmed the identity of a woman, who was killed during an encounter between government forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Baranay Gapasan, Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro last week.
Fourth Infantry Battalion, 203rd Infantry Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Alexander Arbolado said the woman, who was found dead in the encounter, was Justine Ella Vargas, also known as Star.
According to the result of an investigation, Vargas was a member of Gabriela and Pambansang Lakaw ng Kilusang Mamamalakayang Pilipinas (Pamalakaya)-Palawan. She also reportedly served as a medical staff of the armed group.
According to Arbolado, Vargas’ body was discovered after a firefight between government troops and the NPA in Barangay Gapasan at 6 a.m. last September 14 in Barangay Gapasan.
“May natanggap kaming report noon na mayroon daw mga armadong grupo-dalawang lalaki at dalawang babae na nakikituloy, himihingi ng tubig, pagkain at makikitulog na rin kaya napilitan ang caretaker,” he recounted.
Arbolado said military and police personnel went to the area early the next day to check on the reported presence of armed men and women.
At first, the troops mistook the caretaker as among the armed visitors, and later released him.
“After a few minutes, doon na, may lumabas na nga na mga armado at doon nagkaputukan, nagkahabulan, nakita natin na mga duguan ‘yong tatlo pa,” he said.
When the smoke cleared, Arbolado said the troops discovered the body of a woman, who had gunshot wounds, as well as a firearm.
“Napaputok na yung armas, its either sya or mga kasamahan niya. Hindi namin sya kilala , then late that night may tumawag kay mayor na nagpakilala na sila ang parents ni Justine, doon palang namin nalaman kung sino sya at na taga Palawan pala sya,” Arbolado said.
He added that medical paraphernalia, which were enough for a minor surgery, was also recovered from Justine.
He said that based on the information received through coordination with military in Palawan, Vargas’ parents surrendered to the government in December 2019.
“To find out, ito palang parents ni Justine were also members of Gabriela and Pamalakaya. ‘Yung mother nya I think chairman ng Pamalakaya-Palawan pero nagpabalik-loob na sila. According din sa ating mga contacts ay they have been trying to contact din itong si Justine para sumuko na last na pa. Last year pa nila hinahanap dahil wala na silang contact,” Arbolado added.
He also said that Justine’s remains will immediately be brought back to her family in Palawan.
“Ang sabi ng tatay ay may mga inaasikaso nalang na mga documents at pupunta na dito, kukunin nila dito. May mga nauna na din na mga relatives from Laguna ata,” he said.