MANILA - The military on Wednesday denied allegations of a massacre during an encounter with communist rebels last Sunday in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the 33rd Infantry Battalion, insisted that the encounter against alleged members of the New People's Army was a legitimate operation.
"The spin doctors of the communist terrorists could not validate their 'fake news' that the Philippine Army massacred the members of the Dulangan Manobo tribe," Cabunoc said in a statement.
"The encounter and the death of the enemy combatants were legitimate," he added.
Cabunoc said the 33rd IB and 27th IB conducted an operation against NPA's Guerilla Front 73 to preempt an attack against civilians and the Makabayan Peace Advocacy Team.
He added that the NPA rebels were the first to fire at around 12 p.m.
"Secondly, video statements taken by 33rd IB combat photographers show Datu Etera's revelation that Datu Victor died in the firefight because he rushed to the encounter site to help his son, Tantan, a member of Platoon Arabo's Iskwad Primera," he said.
"Datu Dandee Denian, the first cousin of Datu Victor, can validate the veracity of the Army's report that the latter died fighting side by side with the New People's Army."
Seven NPA rebels and two soldiers were killed in the encounter.
NDF panel chair Fidel Agcaoili earlier said the slain persons were not affiliated with the NPA.
"Tapos kahapon din, may 8 Lumad na minasaker sa Lake Sebu. Aba eh, yang mga pinatay na Lumad eh lumalaban lang para sa kanilang karapatan diyan sa ginagawa ng Consunji company. Aba ngayon eh ang NPA pa at CPP ang terrorist," Agcaoili said in an interview Tuesday.