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Philippine Army Forces Continue Clearing Operations in Northern Negros

Escalante City, Philippines - In the hinterlands of northern Negros Occidental, troops from the Philippine Army persist in their clearing operations following a week of armed conflict in Barangay Pinapugasan, Escalante City. The operations aim to secure the area and allow for the safe return of displaced residents and the resumption of classes in affected communities.

According to Philippines News Agency, public affairs division chief of the 3rd Infantry Division, the troops have not detected any presence of communist rebels recently, but are committed to ensuring the area's security. The clearing efforts are part of a broader initiative to maintain stability following clashes between the army and remnants of the New People's Army's Northern Negros Front.

Classes were suspended last week due to the violence but resumed on Monday in eight villages of Escalante City and the entire town of Toboso after local government units received clearance from the Philippine Army. The 79th Infantry Battalion assisted in the return of hundreds of internally displaced persons, although around a hundred individuals remained in Barangay Pinapugasan Proper.

The conflict affected 1,092 individuals from 268 families, with the majority seeking shelter in evacuation centers. These families received support from both local government units and the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Western Visayas, which provided food and non-food items worth PHP971,364.

The encounters, which occurred on February 21-22, resulted in the deaths of three NPA rebels, including two who were recruited as child warriors, and a former member of an anti-crime volunteer group. On the government side, three soldiers and a militiaman sustained injuries during the initial encounter and were awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal while receiving medical care in Bacolod City.

In a related statement, Col. William Pesase, the outgoing commanding officer of the 62nd Infantry Battalion, emphasized the need for a continued holistic approach to address the Communist insurgency. Despite the declaration of Negros Island under a state of Stable Internal Peace and Security (SIPS), Pesase warned against complacency, highlighting the importance of vigilant monitoring of NPA remnants to prevent their regrouping.

Pesase's remarks came as he prepares to hand over command to Lt. Col. Evelio Ilanga in a ceremony presided over by Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, marking the end of his more than two-year tenure.