The youngest daughter of Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Eufemia Campos Cullamat was killed in an armed encounter between the military and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur on Saturday, the Philippine Army reported.
A military report released by the 3rd Special Forces Battalion Sunday identified the fatality as Jevilyn Cullamat, 22, who was described as a “New People’s Army (NPA) medic” and a member of the Sandatahang Yunit Pampropaganda (SYP) Platoon of the Guerrilla Front 10, Northeastern Regional Committee.
Lieutenant Colonel Joey Baybayan, commanding officer of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, said his troops were conducting combat operations in Barangay San Isidro when they were fired upon by an undetermined number of armed suspects around 4 p.m. The firefight lasted for 45 minutes.
In a separate interview, First Lieutenant Andreo Punsalan, spokesperson of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, said they have received numerous reports of sightings of armed men in the area, which prompted them to check the veracity of information.
“It was a strike operation na parang we beat the time kung sakaling nandoon pa sila at kumpirmado nga dahil nakaengkwentro natin (It was a strike operation wherein we have to beat the time if they were really there and it was confirmed because of the encounter),” Punsalan told the Manila Bulletin.
Punsalan said a 12-member striking team fought against 30 fully armed men who were caught off guard when they were spotted by the troopers in their temporary encampment.
“Parang caught off guard po sila at nagre-relax na dahil hapon na rin at nag-set up na sila ng mga duyan. Noong magkatinginan na, nagkabiglaan tapos bigla na pong nagkaputukan (It looked like they were caught off guard because they seemed to be done for the day and and ready to relax, they even set up hammocks. When the two groups saw each other, both were initially shocked then shots were fired),” he added.
Because the special forces had the element of surprise as an advantage, the communist group was forced to flee and leave their belongings, Punsalan said.
The troops inspected the encounter site after the firefight and it was then that they discovered the body of Cullamat.
Baybayan said the identity of the slain suspect was “confirmed by nine former rebels.”
“The cadaver of Cullamat was immediately evacuated and her siblings and members of her family were immediately notified,” Baybayan said.
The brother and sister of Cullamat also arrived at the military base in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur on Sunday afternoon to confirm the identity of the body, Punsalan noted.
According to Baybayan, Cullamat’s group was linked to the killing of Indigenous Peoples’ Mandatory Representative Datu Jumar Bucales in October this year and “angered the tribal communities all over Surigao del Sur.”
This, he said, prompted the tribal leaders to seek the help of the military to track down the communist group which was responsible for Bucales’ killing.
Cullamat was also an alleged student of communist-linked indigenous schools in Surigao del Sur, Baybayan noted.
The troops recovered at the encounter site three AK-47 rifles, an M14 rifle, and an M6 rifle as well as a backpack containing various documents and other personal belongings. There were also several improvised explosive device (IEDs), explosive components and blasting caps, fully-loaded rifle magazines, cellular phones, food and medical supplies.
Cullamat’s killing happened as the Senate was investigating the alleged red-tagging of military officials, particularly the members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), against leftists personalities that include Bayan Muna representatives.
But Punsalan said the military is leaving the probe on the issue of red-tagging to the proper government agencies.
“We will leave it to their investigation dahil ayaw natin pangunahan ‘yung magiging resulta ng imbestigasyon. We are also saddened gaya po ng sinabi, hindi po namin ginugusto ang ganitong klaseng namamatay. Kaya po we are pushing for the NTF ELCAC dahil ito ‘yung isa sa most peaceful ways to end the rebellion dahil magpunta tayo sa barangay development para ma-address ang roots of insurgency (We will leave it to their investigation because we do not want to pre-empt the results of the probe. We are also saddened like what we have said, we do not want these kinds of incidents where someone dies. That is why we are pushing for the NTF ELCAC because it is one of the most peaceful ways to end the rebellion because we will focus on the development of the villages to address the roots of insurgency),” Punsalan said.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Allan Hambala, commander of the 401st Infantry Brigade which supervises the 3rd Special Forces Battalion, extended his condolences to the family of Cullamat.
“We send our sincerest condolences to the Cullamat family. We are saddened because we know that she and her family were just victims to the CNT [communist-terrorist]’s destructive and pointless ideology,” Hambala said.
Cullamat’s body was brought by her siblings to a funeral parlor in Barobo, Surigao del Sur for an autopsy.