BY IME SORNITO and RUBY SILUBRICO
ILOILO City – Several Philippine Army soldiers in Western Visayas have trained in handling mortars during combats with the New People’s Army (NPA). A brigade commander believes using the weapon will put them “at an advantage” as they try to quell insurgency.
Some 50 soldiers have gathered at Camp Adriano Hernandez in Dingle, Iloilo for the Mortar Gunnery Proficiency Training.
Colonel Benedict Arevalo, 301st Infantry Brigade commander, stressed that they do not intend to let the NPA win.
“The purpose is to prepare our troops to fight,” Arevalo said. “We do not fight on equal terms with the enemy. We always fight in an [advantageous] position.”
He believes mortars will provide the soldiers with superior firepower and ensure the success of counterinsurgency operations.
“This will ensure victory in all the engagement that we are going to have against the NPA,” Arevalo pointed out.
During the training at the brigade’s base from Sept. 3 to 9 the soldiers were taught on how to properly handle and discharge mortars.
Mortars are artillery weapons that fire explosive shells known as mortar bombs. Being short-ranged, they are usually aimed at close targets.
The bomb is loaded into the barrel and fired into the air, with the barrel set at a certain angle to the ground.
Mortars are already seldom used in anti-insurgency combats in Panay Island, Arevalo has learned. Every battalion must have a mortar team, he stressed.
“We have enough mortars that we have not used,” he said. Through the training, “want to make them more proficient and effective in the battlefield.”
For the training Arevalo tapped experts from the Army’s premier Combat Arms School; the Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija; and the 3rd Field Artillery Battalion in Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz.
The participating soldiers were from the 61st Infantry Battalion, the 94th Infantry Battalion and the 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company, all under the 301st Infantry Brigade.
According to Arevalo, they want to sustain their offensives against the NPA.
Civilians still complain about the rebels’ “extortion and terroristic activities” while the rebels’ armed encounters with government troops continue, said the Army official.
Since assuming the post as 301st Infantry Brigade commander, Arevalo said he has made it clear that it is always the government troops who should attack first, not the NPA.
Arevalo clarified that they intend to use mortars during operations in hinterland barangays to prevent civilian injuries or casualties.
“We have rules of engagement. There is a certain radius that is safe for us to fire. Kaya nga mas maganda kung sa bundok, kaunti ang tao,” said Arevalo.
Just this Sept. 9 a 15-minute encounter ensued between rebels and government troops in Barangay Agcarope, Janiuay, Iloilo.
The clash left one member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary dead. It also prompted the local government to suspend elementary and high school classes in 12 barangays for a day.
A day after the clash, additional troops from the 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company were deployed to Janiuay using two helicopters of the Philippine Air Force for pursuit operations./PN