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Sorsogon town marks bloody Valentine’s Day

GUBAT, Sorsogon --- Last Feb. 14, this idyllic town known for its surfing spot commemorated a tragic and bloody Valentine’s Day attack that occurred 17 years ago in 2003 when New People’s Army (NPA) rebels dressed in camouflage fatigue uniform strafed a police outpost with automatic gun fires, which disturbed the peaceful and romantic atmosphere of that day.

Three policemen were killed in that attack, namely: SPO2 Danilo Doctama; PO3 Ernesto Ebrada; and PO2 Albino Cadag. A 14-year old bystander, Raymund Tan, was also killed.

Although the rebels who perpetrated the attack were arrested over the next few months, it was not known whether any one of them was indicted and imprisoned for that particular attack.

In the evening of Oct. 15, 2017, some 14 years and 8 months after that incident, NPA rebels attacked again the same outpost killing one policeman on duty, PO2 Dennis Garbida. The townsfolk saw the arrival of the rebels who were also wearing camouflage fatigue uniform. But they thought that they were soldiers or policemen who were making a stopover before returning to their camp.

It was only when Garbida accosted them that they opened fire, killing the cop instantly. The policeman had previously served with the Philippine Marines, seeing action in parts of Mindanao and Sulu. He transferred to the Philippine National Police (PNP) a few years earlier and was reassigned to his hometown of Gubat.

He was active and effective in police operations against communist rebels operating in the town’s different villages. His fellow police officers and friends believed that it was the reason why the rebels targeted him for liquidation.

Less than three weeks later, on Nov 3, 2017, another attack was staged by NPA rebels, this time against the town’s police station inside the municipal compound, right across the mayor’s office. Fortunately, none of the policemen were hurt in the attack but the rebels were also able to flee from the scene unscathed.

Alarmed by these attacks and by the spate of killings of civilians believed to be supporters of the rebels, Gubat Mayor Sharon Glipo-Escoto called for a stop to these killings and proposed the holding of localized peace talks.

Over the next two years, insurgency related killings in Gubat temporarily stopped. The town is a second class municipality with a population of over 60,000 and located 19 kilometers away from the province’s capital, Sorsogon City.

On Sept. 30, 2019, the Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC) program was launched in the town. It was hosted by the town’s local chief executive and held in the Andaya’s Gymnasium inside the Gubat Municipal Compound.

Present during the event were Philippine Army officials led by: MGen. Fernando Trinidad, commanding general of the 9th Infantry Division (9ID); BGen. Peale Jon Bondoc, commanding officer (CO) of the 903rd Infantry Brigade; Lt.Col. Charlie Ben B. Delamide, CO of the 31st Infantry Battalion; and Police Col. Melecio Buslig, Sorsogon PNP provincial director.

Sorsogon 2nd District Rep. Ma. Bernardita B. Ramos, Mayor Escoto and a representative of Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero were also present during the occasion.

Faustino “Junie” Taclan, Jr., Municipal Planning and Development officer presented a needs assessment and survey report.

Malou Dometita, municipal officer of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) read the resolution activating the Gubat Municipal TF-ELCAC, while DILG provincial officer Julius Rodel L. Cal-Ortiz shared his insights on the topic. A rebel surrenderee identified only as “Val” also shared his experiences as a former rebel during the forum.

On the same occasion, at the refurbished Encinas Pavilion, a medical-dental mission was conducted for the town’s residents.

Some 21 national government agencies such as the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Department of Health, the Civil Service Commission and others also offered off-site services to the townsfolk.

Discussions were held and pamphlets were distributed regarding the Enchanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) being administered by Task Force Bicolandia with the goal of attracting NPA rebels to come forward, surrender their arms and take the necessary steps to be reintegrated as peaceful civilians.

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