A Palaweña who was believed to be a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) was killed earlier this week in an encounter with government troops in Barangay Gapasan, Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro.
In an interview with Palawan News, Lt. Col. Alexander Arbolado, commanding officer of the 4th Infantry Battalion, 203rd Infantry Brigade, identified the rebel member as Justine Ella Vargas, alias Star, a resident of Paly Island in Taytay town.
Arbolado said that Vargas died on September 14 during an encounter between the NPA and forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA).
Vargas was reportedly part of a group of armed rebels who were seeking to stay overnight in Gapasan. Arbolado said they conducted an operation and encountered the NPA group at around 6 a.m on the following day.
“May natanggap kaming report noon na mayroon daw mga armadong grupo — dalawang lalaki at dalawang babae na nakikituloy, himihingi ng tubig, pagkain, at makikitulog na rin kaya napilitan ang caretaker. Bandang alas sais ng umaga, kinabukasan ay nandoon na ang mga tropa at may lumabas sa kubo. Akala [nila] NPA kaya inaresto, ‘yon pala ‘yong caretaker ng bahay. After a few minutes doon na, may lumabas na nga na mga armado at doon nagkaputukan, nagkahabulan, nakita natin na mga duguan ‘yong tatlo pa,” he said.
“Nakita namin ang bangkay nitong babae na hindi alam ang pagkakakilanlan. Doon din na-recover ang isang armas na naiputok na rin its either siya or mga kasamahan nya. Hindi namin siya kilala. Then late that night may tumawag kay mayor na nagpakilala na sila ang parents ni Justine, doon pa lang namin nalaman kung sino siya at na taga-Palawan pala siya,” Arbolado added.
He said they were later contacted by her parents in Palawan inquiring about her death.
Arbolado said that based on their investigation, Vargas was a member of the left-leaning group Gabriela and the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA)-Palawan. She also reportedly served as the medical staff of the rebel armed group in Occidental Mindoro.
“Napagalaman na si Justine ay miyembro ng Gabriela at ng PAMALAKAYA sa Palawan. Siya rin ay nagsilbing medical staff ng grupo na sinusuportahan naman ng ating mga na-recover sa kanila. May mga medical paraphernalia for minor surgery — mga ganoon,” he said.
Arbolado said they were also informed by the military in the province that Vargas’ parents were among the rebel members who surrendered in December 2019 in Paly Island. He said her mother used to be a chairman of PAMALAKAYA-Palawan.
“We found out, ito palang parents ni Justine were also members of Gabriela and PAMALAKAYA. Yong mother niya, I think chairman ng PAMALAKAYA-Palawan pero nagbalik-loob na sila. According din sa ating mga contacts ay they have been trying to contact din itong si Justine para sumuko na last year pa. Last year pa nila hinahanap dahil wala na silang contact,” he said.
He said the family had already expressed interest to claim Vargas’ remains to bring her back to Palawan.
The local government of Magsaysay and Mindoro also provided a decent burial to Vargas, he added, until her family arrives to claim her.
“Ang sabi ng tatay ay may mga inaasikaso na lang na mga documents at pupunta na dito, kukunin nila dito. May mga nauna na din na mga relatives from Laguna ata,” he said.
Effect on families
During the phone interview, Arbolado said Rona Jane Manalo, alias Ka Pandan and Amir, who died on September 3, was a resident of Mindoro.
Manalo reportedly died in an encounter with the Force Reconnaissance Group (FRG) of the Marines.
He said Bonifacio Magramo, alias Salvador Luminoso, secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area-4E (SRMA-4E) and Bienvenido Valleber Command (BVC) was also a Mindoro resident.
“It is sad to know na nandito pala siya sa Mindoro. Just like noong nangyari kay Ren Manalo who also died a few weeks ago kasama ni Bonifacio Magramo, taga-Mindoro naman ‘yon at dinala din d’yan sa Palawan. Doon natin makikita na talagang nilalayo nila ito sa mga pamilya,” he said.
Makabayan bloc links
Arbolado linked the rebels to leftist party-list groups Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Bayan, and Anakbayan, saying they had recovered “subversive documents” of the groups from their possession.
He said that soldiers of the 4th Infantry Battalion, the same day, recovered one 9mm pistol, three improvised explosive devices (IEDs), (Anti-Tank, Anti-Personnel Mine, Improvise Hand Grenade) one rifle grenade, five backpacks, a roll flat cord, and “subversive documents” from Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Bayan, and Anakbayan.
“Nakita dito ang mga publications ng mga party-list natin kasama ‘yong Kabataan party-list, ‘yong Ibon-Bird Talk and other publications ng Gabriela. Napapakita naman talaga doon ang link ng Makabayan sa NPA,” he said.
“Kaya nga I am hopeful na ma-pressure na ang mga congressman natin na i-expel na itong Makabayan member dahil matagal na ‘yan and yet parang walang action,” he added.
Accordingly, Vargas was recruited into the rebel movement by Ka Rise, a female NPA member and a department secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area-RE. She is also one of the remaining two top wanted NPA leaders in Palawan, including Ka Miggy, based on the list of the Provincial Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF ELCAC).
Vargas is under the Platoon Serna of the NPA Sub Regional Military Area 4D’s MAV operate in the province of Mindoro.