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Military: NPAs, not Air Force bombs, started Abra forest fires
Two FA-50PH lead-in fighter trainers of the Philippine Air Force. Human rights advocates claim jets dropped bombs in a remote Abra town,sparking forest fires Malacañang Photo Bureau, file
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Forest fires in remote Malibcong town in Abra were started by fleeing New People's Army rebels and not by Air Force bombs, the military claims.
This, amid continued denials by both police and military that aerial bombings after the twin NPA attacks on March 12 and 13 started forest fires in sitio Lat-ey in barangay Duldulao in that town.
Lt. Col. Dominic Baluga, commanding officer of the Philippine Army’s 24th Infantry Battalion blamed NPA rebels for the forest fires, who started them “to slow down pursuing troops from catching up on them.”
But a plea has been made by Lat-ey barangay kagawad Antonio Ambalneg to allow the entry of relief goods into Malibcog town and for police and the military not to block civic groups carrying food, medicine and supplies for military operations’ affected villagers.
Military and police checkpoints have been up in the area since Friday.
The village chief said checkpoints on the Abra–Kalinga road and the Bangued–Malibcong entryway have prevented groups from getting through since Friday last week.
Fires are continuing over five hectares of pasture and agricultural lands, Ambalneg said, though authorities denied it.
Abra police spokesperson Chief Inspector Grace Marron said they have not been appraised on the alleged forest and grass fires after last week’s twin attacks.
A survivor, who requested anonymity, of the alleged aerial bombings however claimed 11 families living in four kalapaws (huts) in the Bañgilo district of Malibcong, also a watershed, have fled the area.
Imelda Tabiando, spokesperson of the human rights group Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said no groups are allowed to go into Malibcong.
Villagers have confirmed, Tabiando said, that the military have dropped 14 bombs since Thursday this week.
Varying reports from human rights groups claim that the bombs were either dropped by jets or by combat helicopters.
Classes in at least 11 elementary schools in Malibcong have also been suspended by the Education department as the military operations continued.
The Abra-based Agustin Begnalen Command of the NPA meanwhile condemned the aerial bombings calling it state terrorism.
“Ang nagaganap ngayon sa bayan ng Malibcong hanggang Bangued ay batas-militar kung saan nakapailalim sa kontrol ng miltar at pulis ang pangekonomiya, at pampulitikang aspeto ng buhay ng mamamayan, said Diego Wadagan, spokesperson of the command.
Wadagan also said that local officials and employees in Mablicong were tagged by the military and police as NPAs.
Mablicong Vice Mayor Joseph Dungay has not answered querries about the exchange of accusations of the military and NPA.