By Aira Genesa Magdayao, Palawan News
A Palaweña who was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) was killed earlier this week in an encounter with government troops in Barangay Gapasan, Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro.
In an interview with Palawan News, Lt. Col. Alexander Arbolado, commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Battalion, 203rd Infantry Brigade, identified the rebel member as Justine Ella Vargas, alias Star, a resident of Paly Island in Taytay town.
Arbolado said that Vargas died on September 14 during an encounter between the NPA and forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA).
Vargas was reportedly part of a group of armed rebels who were seeking to stay overnight in Gapasan. Arbolado said they conducted an operation and encountered the NPA group at around 6 a.m on the following day.
Here is Arbolada’s account:
“May natanggap kaming report na mayroon daw mga armadong grupo — dalawang lalaki at dalawang babae na nakikituloy, himihingi ng tubig, pagkain, at makikitulog na rin kaya napilitan ang caretaker.
“Bandang alas sais ng umaga, kinabukasan ay nandoon na ang mga tropa. Nang may lumabas sa kubo, Akala [nila] NPA kaya inaresto, ‘yon pala ‘yong caretaker ng bahay.
“After a few minutes, may lumabas na nga na mga armado at doon nagkaputukan, nagkahabulan, nakita natin na mga duguan ‘yong tatlo pa.
“Nakita namin ang bangkay nitong babae na hindi alam ang pagkakakilanlan. Doon din na-recover ang isang armas na naiputok na rin. Its either siya or mga kasamahan nya. Hindi namin siya kilala.
Then late that night may tumawag kay meyor na nagpakilala na sila ang parents ni Justine, doon pa lang namin nalaman kung sino siya at na taga-Palawan pala siya.”
Arbolado said that based on their investigation, Vargas was a member of the left-leaning group Gabriela and the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA)-Palawan.
She also reportedly served as the medical staff of the rebel armed group in Occidental Mindoro. This was supported by medical paraphernalia for minor surgery that were recovered in the scene.
Arbolado said they were also informed by the military in the province that Vargas’ parents were among the rebel members who surrendered in December 2019 in Paly Island.
It was also learned that they have been trying to contact Justine to also surrender since last year. They started a search but could not establish contact.
Her mother used to be a chairman of PAMALAKAYA-Palawan and a member of Gabriela.
He said the family had already expressed interest to claim Vargas’ remains to bring her back to Palawan. Arbolado said “Ang sabi ng tatay ay may mga inaasikaso na lang na mga documents at pupunta na dito, kukunin nila dito. May mga nauna na din na mga relatives from Laguna.”
The local governments of Magsaysay and Mindoro have also also provided for decent funeral services to Vargas, and are only waiting for her family to arrive to claim her.
Effect on families
During the phone interview, Lt. Col. Arbolado said Rona Jane Manalo, alias Ka Pandan and Amir, who died on September3, was on the other hand a resident of Mindoro who died in an encounter at Brookes Point in Palawan with the Force Reconnaissance Group (FRG) of the Marines.
One Marine and five rebels were slain.
Together with Manalo among the NPAs slain were Bonifacio Magramo, Andrea Rosal, Noel Siasico, and another individual whose identity remains unconfirmed as of presstime.
Arbolado added that Bonifacio Magramo, alias Salvador Luminoso, secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area-4E (SRMA-4E) and Bienvenido Valleber Command (BVC) were also Mindoro residents.
What saddens Arbolado is that there is definitely a consistent pattern to separate operatives from their families. Manalo who was from Mindoro was slain in Palawan, and Vargas who is from Palawan was slain in Mindoro.
Vargas’ life could have been saved had her parents were only able to connect with her after they laid down their arms and took advantage of the government’s Balik-Loob Program that returns former rebels to normal lives, with various incentives to expedite their reintegration into society.
Arbolado said the same day soldiers of the 4th Infantry Battalion recovered one 9mm pistol, three improvised explosive devices (IEDs), (Anti-Tank, Anti-Personnel Mine, Improvise Hand Grenade) one rifle grenade, five backpacks, a roll flat cord, and “subversive documents” from Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Bayan, and Anakbayan.
Accordingly, Vargas was recruited into the rebel movement by Ka Rise, a female NPA member and a department secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area-RE.
She is also one of the remaining two top wanted NPA leaders in Palawan, including Ka Miggy, based on the list of the Provincial Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF ELCAC).
Vargas was under the Platoon Serna of the NPA Sub Regional Military Area 4D’s MAV operate in the province of Mindoro.
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