Army-NPA clashes in Abra displace 402 individuals

Major Rigor N. Pamittan, chief of 5ID public affairs office (Photo courtesy of Pamittan via DWDD)

At least 402 individuals were forced to flee their homes when Philippine Army (PA) soldiers and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels engaged in a series of armed encounters in Pilar, Abra on Tuesday, April 2.

Elements of the 50th Infantry Battalion (50IB), 501st Infantry Brigade (501IBde) under the 5th Infantry Division (5ID) were conducting security operations following a tip from residents about the presence of armed men in the area when they were engaged in a fierce firefight by alleged members of the NPA’s North Abra Guerrilla Front (KLG North Abra), Ilocos Cordillera Regional Committee (ICRC) led by a certain Ma. Luisa Purcray, according to the Philippine Army (PA).

The first encounter occurred in the boundary of Barangay Nagcanasan in Pilar and Barangay Babalasioan in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur around 11:50 a.m. The exchange of fire lasted for five minutes.

"Mga ilang minutes lang tumagal at hindi rin naman masustain ng mga remaining members ng KLG North Abra ang mahabaang palitan ng putok (The encounter lasted for several minutes only because the remaining members of KLG North Abra could not sustain long exchange of fire)," Major Rigor N. Pamittan, chief of 5ID public affairs office, said in a radio interview over DWDD.

Another encounter followed around 12 noon and lasted "for several minutes" when the soldiers caught up with the escaping NPA fighters.

An encounter between the Philippine Army (PA) and New People's Army (NPA) forces the evacuation of 402 individuals in Pilar, Abra and Sta. Maria Ilocos Sur on April 2, 2024. (Photo via DWDD) 

The "cat and mouse" play between the Army and NPA lasted until 7 p.m. The 5ID requested for cross air support utilizing the air assets of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) to zero in on the rebels.

The Pilar municipal disaster risk reduction and management council (MDRRMC) and Barangay Peacekeeping Actions Teams (BPATs) in the concerned villages conducted forced evacuation to avoid civilians from getting caught in the line of fire. 

According to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), a total of 201 individuals (58 families) in Barangay Nagcanasan and 118 individuals (34 families) in Barangay Gapang were evacuated to Poblacion Gymnasium in Pilar municipality due to the incident.

There were 83 individuals (21 families) from Sitio Paring in Barangay Babalasioan, Sta. Maria town who were also evacuated by the authorities.

The local government unit of Pilar has suspended the classes in the primary and secondary levels in public and private schools on April 3 due to the conflict.

A soldier was reportedly hurt while the military was confirming casualties on the side of the NPA.

"Sa ngayon tuloy-tuloy ang pursuit operations sa pagtugis sa members ng KLG North Abra. May coordination tayo with the local police for counter operations sa area ng Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur at Pilar, Abra (Right now, our pursuit operations continue to hunt down the members of the KLG North Abra. We have coordinated with the local police for counter operations in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur and Pilar, Abra)," Pamittan said.