Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ambush in Camarines Sur, Philippines

By Danny O. Calleja

The commanding general of the Philippine Army's (PA) 9th Infantry Division (Spear) described Army Pfc. Edel Llamas as a hero. 

Llamas was the lone fatality from a platoon of soldiers ambushed by New People's Army (NPA) rebels while on board a military truck along the national highway in barangay Kilikilihan, San Andres, Catanduanes early morning last March 26.

"He is a hero. He died saving his platoon. He died serving his country," Maj. Gen. Josue Gaverza said in paying tribute to the slain soldier at the division's headquarters in Camp Elias Angeles here and extending sympathies to his bereaved family.

Gaverza assured that military honors will be bestowed on Llamas and all benefits and assistance would be received by his family.

The Bicol top military commander recalled that Llamas was supposed to be on leave and at home with his family and his wife who had just returned from a two-year working stint abroad. However, a call from his immediate superior requesting him to join his unit in a security mission as he was about to board a ferry boat to the Bicol mainland foiled his departure.

Llamas was assigned with the 83rd Infantry Battalion (IB) of the PA based in San Andres town.

Following a week-long military operation conducting security patrol to protect the hydroelectric plant in a remote area of San Miguel town, the troop was heading back to their headquarters in Barangay Lictin when waylaid by the rebels along the national highway.

The NPAs in the island warned earlier that they would destroy the hydro power facility because of the resistance of its management to pay "revolutionary tax" the communist movement is demanding.

The power generating plant, owned by Sunwest Water and Electricity Corp. (SUWESCO), a local energy developer, started operations in 2008 and was attacked by the NPAs a year after reportedly for the same reason.

Catanduanes is considered as the few remaining hotbed of communist insurgency in Bicol. Military records show that there are about 45 armed regulars of the NPA operating in the island where the rebels started to form a mass base only about five years ago.

With its tires busted by the first volley of gunfire the military vehicle carrying Llamas' platoon was pinned inside the "killing zone" set up by the ambushers.

One member of the government team recalled that Llamas, who was a fearless fighter was heard shouting "baba na, baba na, ako na ang bahala dito" as the other 29 soldiers were scrambling down from the truck to seek cover under heavy enemy fire and find position to engage their unseen attackers.

Llamas stayed in the truck providing covering fire with his K3 submachine gun for his companions but was fatally hit by enemy fire before he himself could alight to safety. Another soldier identified by Gaverza as Pfc Eliseo Gran was wounded in the attack.

"Llamas' act of bravery allowed the rest of the platoon to abandon the ill-fated truck then engage the NPA rebels who retreated after a five-minute heavy exchanges of gunfire," Lt. Col. Roldofo Batang, the PA's 83rd IB commanding officer said.

Llamas, 28 and a native of Albay, was known to his fellow soldiers as a jolly military man but a seasoned fighter who had shown outstanding commitment to service. "He treasured much his career in the military," according to Batang.

"In fact, Llamas never complained when he was summoned back to duty before his tragic death even as he was supposed to be on a vacation for his official leave," he added.

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