Govt Officials: Philippine Communist Rebels Kill 3 Civilians during Typhoon Evacuation Efforts

Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Cotabato and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
Govt Officials: Philippine Communist Rebels Kill 3 Civilians during Typhoon Evacuation Efforts Residents of Surigao del Sur province in the southern Philippines wade through a flood caused by heavy rain from Tropical Storm Dujuan, Feb. 21, 2021.

Philippine communist guerrillas killed three civilians and wounded another in an ambush on government soldiers who were helping thousands of people evacuate Wednesday as a typhoon bore down on the southern Philippines, officials said.

Suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) carried out the attack in Carmen, a town in Surigao del Sur province, as soldiers from the Army’s 36th Infantry were assisting residents move to safety ahead of Typhoon Rai, provincial Gov. Alexander Pimentel said. 

“Instead of helping, the NPA ambushed the army,” Pimentel told reporters. “Three civilians died and an S.K. was also hit,” but survived, he said.

The S.K. is the Sangguniang Kabataan, or members of a village’s volunteer youth service. 

Pimentel appealed to the NPA – the military wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – to cease all guerrilla operations and help the government move vulnerable residents away from areas prone to floods and landslides. 

“This is my only request, for the NPA to spare the police and army from attacks because they are merely helping in the evacuation,” he said, adding that about 1,700 families had been evacuated. 

Pimentel and army officials did not release more information about the victims or say whether any troops or rebels were injured.

Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya denounced the attack. 

“We’re saddened and we condemn this. … Instead of helping, they are undermining the good things being done by the government,” Malaya said.

Surigao lies in the northeastern Mindanao, the main island in the southern Philippines, where communist rebels and Muslim militants allied with the Islamic State are known to operate.

The region was expected to bear the brunt of the storm, which was forecast to make landfall early Thursday before heading northeast and eventually blowing out of the country, the Philippine government meteorological agency (PAGASA) said in its Wednesday bulletin. 

Typhoon Rai, known as Odette locally, would be the 15th tropical storm to cross the Philippines this year. 

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), meanwhile, reported that the typhoon was expected to intensify to a projected wind speed of about 155 kph (96 mph) and dump heavy rains. 

About 16 million Filipinos in five regions live along its projected path, including about 3.8 million living below the poverty line, OCHA said. 

“This tropical cyclone may see some slight weakening as it crosses the Visayas and Palawan, but it is forecast to remain within the typhoon category. Re-intensification is likely once Odette emerges over the West Philippine Sea,” PAGASA said. 

In the province of Eastern Samar in the central Visayas region, residents started evacuating on Wednesday even as the weather remained calm.

Nelson Cortez, the Eastern Samar provincial administrator, said many residents were not taking any chances and had already fled to safety. In other areas, including Guiuan town, mandatory evacuations were ordered. 

Storm-related disasters

The Philippines is no stranger to storm-related disasters, although state resources and manpower have been spread thin as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular concern are crowded evacuation sites, where lapses in sanitation could lead to an explosion of cases, according to health officials.  

In November 2013, more than 6,000 people died, and scores were reported missing after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines. The storm, comparable to a Category 4 hurricane, blew away houses and brought massive flooding.

Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever make landfall in the Philippines. Five years later, many areas in the central part of the country are dealing the long-term effects of the devastation. 

The Philippines sits on a typhoon belt and endures as many as 20 tropical storms a year.  

Mark Navales in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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