The Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division (8ID) pulled off a near perfect focus military operation against the New People’s Army (NPA) in Dolores, Eastern Samar on Sunday, Aug. 16, which resulted in the killing of 16 communist rebels while no casualty was recorded on the side of the troops.
Considered as the biggest military offensive in the Eastern Visayas (Region 8) this year, the 8th ID, also called the Storm Troopers Division, managed to infiltrate the NPA hideout located in the jungles of Dolores town.
The hideout encompasses a massive portion of the jungle: 200 meters long and around 60 to 80 meters wide. It was situated three kilometers away from the nearest community in Barangay Osmena.
But how exactly did the military pull off the operation?
Major Gen. Pio Dinoso III, commander of the 8th ID, said Tuesday, Aug. 17, that the operation was a result of a “whole of nation” approach, largely crediting their “tipsters” and high-tech equipment including their drones.
“This is a big blow to the communist insurgency not only in Eastern Samar but in the entire Samar Islands,” he said in a virtual press briefing.
Tips and drones
The operation started “several weeks” before when the 8th ID received raw information that a group of armed men were visiting some households in Barangay Osmena.
There were “one to two” informants who tipped the military about an NPA camp being built in the middle of the jungle.
“Hindi pa nila alam ang eksaktong lokasyon pero marami raw ipinapasok na supply at may mga bumibisitang NPA sa mga kabahayan (They didn’t know yet the exact location but [the NPAs] were bringing in many supplies and visiting households). From there, we verified and found out that there really exists an NPA hideout in the jungle of Dolores in Eastern Samar,” Dinoso shared.
At around 4 a.m. Monday, the 8th ID carried out the infiltration plan as ground troops closed in on the NPA hideout where the rebels were making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and anti-personnel mines. In total, there were more or less 50 NPAs in the hideout.
The hideout was rigged of landmines to deny entrance from outside forces, prompting the 8th ID to use drones to pinpoint the exact location of the enemies.
Burdened by the threat of landmines, the troops then requested for air support.
The Philippine Air Force (PAF) deployed assets to provide close air support while the 8th ID utilized drones to monitor the movement of the rebels. Smart bombs were then dropped by the military to pulverize the camp and trigger the landmines, which then allowed ground troops to advance.
“We have assets, we have drones, we have jets and these are all legitimate assets. Our drones are used to pinpoint enemy location, our jets have precision munitions,” he said.
“Sa operasyon kahapon, mayroon po kami talagang lumilipad na drone so doon po nakikita natin kung saan pumupunta ang kalaban (During yesterday’s operation, we really have a drone to monitor where our enemies were going),” he added.
An intense firefight then ensued which lasted until 5 p.m. — a staggering 13-hour armed encounter.
‘Left to die’
When the gunbattle stopped and the smokes cleared, the troops immediately scoured the encounter site where they discovered the bodies of 16 NPA rebels.
“Iniwan po nila ang mga kasamahan nila na NPA na namatay. Sixteen sila so labindalawang lalaki at apat na babae (The NPAs abandoned the bodies of their comrades. There were a total of 16 bodies, 12 were males and four were females),” Dinoso said.
He said they were already on the process of identifying the bodies to determine if there are any high-ranking leaders among them.
“We have asked forensic experts from the Philippine National Police to help us identify the fatalities,” he noted. “We have also started transporting the cadavers back to the town proper because we will turn it over to the local government unit (LGU) of Dolores.”
Aside from the bodies, the troops also recovered 29 high-powered firearms and other personal belongings.
Dinoso said the troops went back to the encounter site Tuesday morning to find out if there are more casualties.
Meanwhile, he denied that the bombs that reportedly hit two civilian houses in Barangay Kabagwan, around seven to eight kilometers from the encounter site, were from the PAF. He noted that the encounter site was far from the community proper.
“Hindi ito ginagamit ng kanilang mga eroplano, itong mga munition na ito. Pinapaimbestigahan po natin kasi ang lugar na iyan hindi dinaanan ng mga eroplano. Ang confirmed as a fact, hindi siya kasama sa imbentaryo ng munition na ginagamit ng ating Philippine Air Force (These munitions were not used by their airplanes. We are investigating it because our planes did not pass through that area. What is confirmed as a fact is that these are not included in the inventory of the munitions of the Philippine Air Force),” he explained.
Dinoso also called on the remaining members of the NPA in Dolores town to surrender to the military.
“The incident in Dolores, Samar shows that, for the NPA, they reaped what they sow. If they espouse violence, violence will come back. What goes around comes around,” he said, citing recent NPA attacks in the province that resulted in the burning of heavy construction machineries and death of village officials.
He said they were expecting retaliatory attacks from the NPA but he assured the community that the 8th ID has deployed enough manpower to secure the residents.
“Surrender to us now because the government is willing to help you lead normal lives,” he added.