The Philippine military has launched a probe into a possible “tactical blunder” made by a junior officer who led his men into a deadly ambush that left 11 soldiers dead and seven others wounded in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro.
“We’re investigating if there’s tactical blunder,” said Lt. General Roland Detabali, chief of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom).
“There are many losses and we are even considering that the (operation) might have been not well supervised,” Detabali told defense reporters in a phone-patched interview on Sunday.
The death of 11 soldiers was the Army’s biggest loss in a single clash in recent years, Detabali said.
Troops from the 23rd division reconnaissance company were on combat operations in Brgy. Panaytayan, Mansalay at around 5:30 a.m. Saturday when they stumbled upon a New People’s Army camp with an unknown number of rebels.
Detabali said investigators are also looking into the decision of the lieutenant to move at that time. “That’s too late, the movement should be done at night, not at the time that is already sunrise,” he said.
A veteran scout ranger, the Solcom chief said that reconnaissance troops should not move at daytime and that they should be resting and observing the enemy during daytime.
He said the investigation will be carried out by the Solcom’s Inspector General to interview the survivors , their company commander, and the battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Battalion, Lt. Colonel Randy Sinocruz.
“We will ask them to describe why the operation went that way, if there’s any violation made or if there were any plans, and the enemy was on the advantage,” he said.
The three-hour gun battle also resulted in undetermined casualties on the side of the rebels, said Colonel Carlos Quita, Oriental Mindoro provincial military commander.
Quita told the Mindoro Post on Saturday that the reconnaissance unit was on patrol to track the activities of NPA fighters extorting money from candidates who want to woo voters in rebel-infested areas.
“The security patrols and relocation of troops are being implemented to ensure freedom of movement of the candidates when the campaign starts,” Quita said.
“The unfortunate incident will all the more make us pour in more efforts for a credible honest election,” he said. “We are sympathizing with the families of our soldiers who offered the supreme sacrifice in order to deliver to our fellow Filipinos our mandate of protecting their votes.”
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has ordered the crushing of the communist rebels before she steps down from office on June 30.
The guerrillas have been waging a Maoist insurgency for four decades to establish a socialist state in the country.
The Norway-brokered peace talks between the government and the rebels collapsed in 2004 after the insurgents accused Manila of not doing enough to have them removed from the US and EU terrorist blacklist. Anthony Vargas, DateLine Philippines