The area where the suspected rebels reportedly put up a checkpoint is barely populated.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – – An “ambush” of a contingent of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) was reported early Wednesday in Arakan town, North Cotabato. But in subsequent interviews with military spokespersons, it was revealed that the members of the PSG were, in fact, the first to open fire at the suspected rebels.
PSG Spokesperson Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, in an interview with GMA News TV’s Howie Severino Wednesday morning, said two vehicles of the PSG troops were traveling around 5 to 6 a.m. Wednesday when they initially saw uniformed men manning a checkpoint. Upon closer examination, they realized these were not, in fact, government soldiers. And so, Aquino said, the PSG troops opened fire at them and a firefight ensued.
It left four to seven members of the PSG injured, based on various reports.
The firefight was reported in various news as an ‘ambush’ by suspected rebels named as the NPAs.
An ABS-CBN report said a Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) identified as Benjamin Pandia was killed. It noted that four of the injured are PSG.
Aquino consistently referred to the armed men as suspected NPAs. But in another interview, when asked if the armed men were confirmed NPA rebels, Maj. Ezra Balagtey, the public information officer of Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastmincon, told GMA News in Filipino, “They are confirmed NPAs because there are no other armed forces there.”
Aquino said the PSG was in the area on “normal administrative movement” connected with their work. He did not mention why they were traveling with CAFGUs. He said it was not an advance scouting patrol for President Duterte. He reasoned that there are two Malacañangs, one in Davao and one in Manila. And as such, the PSG is part of the regular authorities and security forces in the area.
Aquino of the PSG previously told reporters they estimated around 50 suspected rebels involved. Balagtey, however, avoided giving numbers. He said there is no exact number of how many were at the ‘checkpoint.’ He speculated that the rebels may be consolidating there in preparation or anticipation of increased visits to the Armed Forces units near Marawi.
Balagtey said it is “possible proof” of what PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa had said about NPA ‘atrocities’ in the whole country. Although the men in uniform were clearly not government soldiers as far as the PSG are concerned, Balagtey said, they’ve experienced the NPA’s using soldiers’ uniforms.
The area where the suspected rebels reportedly put up a checkpoint is barely populated. The news of the supposed ambush spread while a security briefing detailing military justifications for prolonging Martial Law was ongoing in the Senate.