MANILA, Philippines – Three civilians were killed after they were caught in an alleged crossfire between government soldiers and an armed group in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur on Thursday, the military said.
The fatalities were identified as Jovy Capeon and her children, Pop and John.
Lt. Col. Noel Alexis Bravo, commander of the Army's 27th Infantry Battalion, said the fatalities were the wife and children of a certain Daguil Capeon, who is allegedly the leader of the armed group.
Capeon’s 7-year-old daughter, Vicky, was also hurt in the incident, said Bravo.
Bravo said the soldiers were deployed to Sitio Aliong, Barangay Kimlawis after they received information that a group of armed men was spotted in the area.
Bravo said the soldiers were allegedly fired upon by armed men as they approached one of the huts at around 6 a.m.
"As a routine procedure, the troops went to the area to check but while approaching a hut, they were fired upon so they returned fire," said Bravo.
Capeon’s group is allegedly associated with the New People's Army (NPA) and is accused of leading an ambush against mining company SMI Xstrata in 2010.
Bravo also said Capeon’s group was involved in the deaths of 3 civilians in the area in March 2011.
"These are ordinary people before. When they killed 3 civilians, they became wanted persons. They went into hiding and became bandits. While in hiding, they reached an alliance (with the NPA), of course, for their survival," the military official said.
However, conflicting reports said Capeon's family may have been "massacred" in their home.
According to the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center – Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK/Friends of the Earth-Philippines), Capeon’s family was killed in "an alleged military raid in Tampakan."
LRC-KsK said the fatalities are members of the B’laan indigenous tribe of Bong Mal.
It added that Capeon's wife "vehemently opposed the presence and operations of SMI Xstrata in their community."
Capeon is reportedly a nephew of Gorelmin Malid, who also strongly opposed the presence of a mining firm in the area.
Gorelmin was also killed in 2002.