Red fighters from the Benito Tesorio and Reynaldo Piñon Commands dealt blows on the strike forces of the 5th ID in two separate ambushes in the early morning of November 27. The 51st and 52nd Division Reconnaissance Companies (DRC) are the so-called elite units of the 5th ID. Up to 13 of their troops fell in battle in two firefights that took place three hours apart in the adjacent towns of San Mariano and Echague.
In an official statement, the Benito Tesorio Command reported having seized an M60 and three K3 submachine guns, five M16 rifles, three pairs of night vision scopes, a Harris radio, a pair of binoculars, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and 15 US backpacks from the enemy in the second gunbattle in Echague.
The 51st and 52nd DRC’s tactics involve night movements and the use of night vision scopes. These two ambushes proved that despite operating under cover of darkness, the enemy could not conceal the pattern of its movements from the masses and the NPA.
At 1:30 a.m. of November 17, in Sitio Luzcon, Barangay Gangalan, San Mariano, six troopers from a platoon under the 51st DRC led by 2Lieutenant Cabanas were killed in an ambush by a platoon under the Reynaldo Piñon Command.
Meanwhile, in the early morning of November 16 in Mabbayad, Echague, Red fighters ambushed elements of the 52nd DRC conducting operations in an area that was previously the site of an NPA encampment. Seeing no one at the site, they stayed the whole day in a place full of thickets. An NPA platoon nearby learned of their presence and positioned themselves in a place where the soldiers would likely pass and waited in ambush.
Three NPA squads took position at the ambush site. They skipped supper and did not leave their positions all night because they knew that their targets could pass by any time.
The NPA platoon command studied how they could counter the DRC’s night movements through a night ambush.
The killing zone designated by the NPA command was a small road below a hill where the guerrillas were positioned. The first squad was relatively far away from the two other squads. The second squad was positioned atop the hill with only mounds of earth for cover. The third squad waited nearby at a higher position, behind a cluster of banana trees. Between the road and the two squads’ position was the hillside, recently cleared and newly planted with corn. It was a dark night, with the surroundings growing even darker as dawn neared on November 17.
At a little past 4 a.m., the squads atop the hill vaguely saw a group of people walking closely behind each other, approaching their position. At first, they could not discern whether they were the enemy or the third squad of NPA guerrillas. The soldiers were a mere three meters away when the Red fighters opened fire.
Most of the soldiers ran downhill, but some, including the trooper with the M60 who was in front, ran uphill, right smack into the third NPA squad’s position. One of the guerrillas ran towards him, aiming his shotgun, but it failed to fire. He grappled with the soldier instead. Another comrade stuck the end of his M14 rifle at the soldier’s ribs, sending him running downhill and leaving the M60 behind. The machine gun was the first weapon seized in the first volley of fire.
The first NPA squad positioned behind the enemy could not open fire immediately, because the fight was too close and it was too dark. They opened fire at the break of dawn, causing even more confusion among the enemy’s ranks.
Although under NPA fire from the front, flank and rear, the enemy’s commanding officer did not order his unit to retreat and instead stayed put at a part of the hill where they had no cover, even when morning came. Except for those who were able to run downhill and take cover behind trees, the soldiers on the hill were hit one after the other, including their leader 1Lt. Jimnah Torrepalma. Machine guns, armalites, packs, the dead and the wounded all littered the hillside, just meters away from the guerrillas surrounding them.
By 6 a.m., the NPA began calling for them to surrender. Torrepalma, who was badly wounded, signalled his surrender, along with two other wounded soldiers. NPA medics applied first aid on the surrendered lieutenant, but he later died because of the seriousness of his wounds. The two other soldiers who surrendered were also given first aid. They were not too badly wounded and survived.
The NPA immediately called a local radio reporter about the wounded enemy troops, so they could be retrieved and given medical treatment. But it was already past 12 noon when two helicopters and the 5th ID’s reinforcement troops arrived.
The enemy tried to deflect public attention from their defeat by spreading lies about the presence of three foreign women with the NPA and the alleged deployment of NPA fighters from Cagayan. But they nonetheless failed to conceal the fact that the people’s army and armed struggle have significantly gained strength in Isabela.
Before these two victorious ambuscades, three gunbattles took place between the NPA and the 51st DRC in Jones and San Mariano towns. Nine soldiers were killed and at least ten wounded in these firefights.
Two soldiers were killed and ten wounded in a harassment operation by an NPA squad on November 8 against the 54-man 51st DRC troop in Sitio Namulan, Barangay San Jose, San Mariano. The AFP concealed this from the media, but several peasants saw two military helicopters retrieving the dead and wounded.
Meantime, four troopers from a 25-man platoon of the 51st DRC were killed in another harassment operation by an NPA team on October 30 at Si- tio Old Nursery, Barangay Disulap, San Mariano.
At past midnight on October 17, three soldiers from a 24-man platoon also of the 51st DRC were felled and an undetermined number wounded in an encounter with a platoon under the Benito Tesorio Command in Sitio Kidog-kidog, Barangay Santa Isabel, Jones town. The Red fighters did not suffer any casualties in the 30-minute firefight. The 5th ID claimed that neither side suffered casualties.
(Culled from a report from the Fortunato Camus Command NPA-Cagayan Valley)