AYUNGON, Negros Oriental, Philippines – Colonel Von Donald Almonte sounded somber in the middle of his message as he remembered what he called his “brothers” – soldiers who died in combat since the 94th Battalion was formed five years ago.
He asked for a minute of silent prayer for them.
“They made the supreme sacrifice,” Almonte said as junior officers listened in front and as his superiors – Lieutenant General Benedict Arevalo, Armed Forces Visayas command chief, and 303rd Brigade commander, Colonel Orlando Edralin – nodded and listened behind him.
The death of the six troopers was the somber tone yesterday to what was supposed to be a happy occasion, the founding of the 94th, nicknamed the “Mandirigma (Warrior),” that had been engaged in groundfighting against a major rebel front founded by Frank Fernandez, a priest in the 70s who later became a rebel icon in Negros, a Philippine island where the New People’s Army, once strongly supported by sugarcane planters and members of the clergy, used to have a considerable fighting force
Arevalo, who once headed the Army’s Third Infantry Division that oversees counterinsurgency operations over three islands – Negros, Guimaras, and Panay – said in his message here yesterday, 21 February 2023, that 3ID data showed the 94th had the most number of armed engagements or combat with the New People’s Army now called by the Army as a “Communist-Terrorist Group.”
While Arevalo did not cite specifics, an audiovisual presentation by the 94th showed that in October 2022 alone, its rifle units clashed with Communist rebels in the mountain village of Carabalan at least six times October last year that led to the death of Romeo Nanta alias Juaning.
The military claimed Nanta had long been the commander of the Regional Operations Command of the New People’s Army after Jessie Lipura alias Ka Maoring was deployed to Panay island in the 90s.
He was also the spokesperson of the NPA in Negros.
The 94th also scored another battlefield win a month later in the mountain village of Camansi in nearby Kabankalan City when its troopers and those from the 47th clashed with an NPA unit that led to the death of Ericson Acosta who was identified later as the deputy secretary of the four-island collapsed regional committee based in the island.
These ground losses are significant in the sense that at no other time in the 50-year history of the insurgency in the island had the top cadres of the Communist Party and the NPA been killed on the field in running gunbattles.