CAGAYAN, Philippines – Police and military officials admitted that cops ambushed by suspected communist rebels in a remote village in Cagayan on Tuesday, February 16, were at a "disadvantage" as they were outnumbered by their attackers and were situated in an area where they were easily spotted by the enemy.
Police Chief Superintendent Reinier Idio, Philippine National Police (PNP)-Cagayan Valley Director, said on Wednesday, February 17, that the police sent a 21-member Regional Police Safety Battalion (RPSB) to investigate the February 14 torching incident allegedly perpetrated by communist rebels in Baggao town.
The battalion was attacked by around 40 rebels – 40% of the estimated 100-strong New People's Army operating in Northern Cagayan – indicating that it was a major NPA operation.
The firefight which lasted for about two hours led to the death of 6 troopers, all of them ranked Police Officer 1 (PO1), while 8 were injured.
Although no bodies were retrieved from the rebels’ side, Idio said they suspect that at least two rebels were killed in the encounter, based on traces of blood and the discovery of the rebels' assaults rifle and live ammunition.
He added that they already filed arson charges against the rebels as the investigation of the incident continued.
The clash is now considered as the bloodiest encounter between government troops and armed rebels since the last year's Mamasapano encounter in Maguindanao province, where over 60 people were killed, including 44 elite cops.
Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda of the Philippine Army admitted that the request for military reinforcement came in late but added that even so, his troops were already working on the ground since there was prior coordination of RPSB's operation.
The military sent reinforcement hours after the firefight, including a helicopter from the Philippine Air Force.
Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, who flew to Tuguegarao City early Wednesday to check on the wounded cops and to give them financial assistance, said the turnout of the encounter “could have been different” if the mission was not properly coordinated.
Sarmiento compared this to what happened in the Mamasapano encounter, in apparent reference to the view that casualties could have been minimized in the Maguindanao town with prior coordination between the military and the police. (READ: Mamasapano: What ifs and what could have beens)
“Ang pagkakaiba talaga ay yung prior coordination [ng mga pulis sa military] so they were easily monitored….Nagkaroon sila dito ng sistema, a protocol which gave us our advantage yesterday,” Sarmiento said.
(The difference was there was prior coordination between the police and the operating military there so they were easily monitored. They had a system and protocol which gave us our advantage yesterday.) – Rappler.com