8 SAF Commandos slain

Manila, Philippines --- Eight members of the police's elite Special Action Force (SAF) were killed and seven other policemen were wounded in an ambush by at least 30 suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Cagayan province yesterday morning.

Senior Inspector Cesar Orlanes, spokesman of the Cagayan provincial police, said the SAF commandos, members of the 24th SAF Company, were heading toward Allacapan town proper to undergo electrocardiogram (ECG) examination, a requirement for their regular physical fitness test, when they were attacked at around 8:30 a.m. in Barangay Cataratan. "Their vehicle was hit when a landmine exploded along the road," Orlanes told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview, adding that the policemen were on board a pick-up truck. After the police vehicle was hit, the communist rebels, who were in ambush position, opened fire at the SAF commandos, who tried to fight back.

Slain were certain Police Officer 3 Vladimir Tabarejo, PO2 Elmark Rodney Pinated, PO2 Dexter Cubilla, PO2 Angelbert Mateo, PO2 Jonnel Bowat, PO2 Ronald Castulo, PO1 Eric Brioso, and PO1 Jerome Sanchez.

Wounded were PO2 Ronald Gomez, PO2 Geopano Adangi, PO2 Ricky Monay, PO2 Jeofrey Amilagan, PO2 Jeofrey Elasco, PO1 Ephraim Dolete, and PO1 Ryan Asunio.

It was learned that a medical team from the Cagayan Valley Regional Police Office were sent to Allacapan Police Station for the ECG of policemen.

"They wanted to take advantage of that opportunity but on their way there, they were ambushed," said Orlanes.

Chief Superintendent Rodrigo de Gracia, director of the Cagayan Valley Regional Police Office, said the ambushed policemen were even in athletic uniform when the attack occurred.

"A landmine was used. They were shot at but there was also a resistance on the part of our personnel," said De Gracia, who said the SAF commandos are based in Barangay Cataratan, some two kilometers away from the town proper.

All the victims have been accounted for by the responding policemen, with the wounded policemen already taken to the nearby Ballesteros District Hospital.

The rebels, reportedly under the command of Danilo Ben who operates in Cagayan, are believed to have taken the firearms of the slain policemen.

Communist insurgency is one of the security problems in Cagayan. The strength of the NPA in the province is not immediately available.

But the military said the NPA force has already been reduced to more or less 4,000 from its peak of more than 26,000 in the 1980s.

The peace negotiations with the NPA, which has been waging more than four decades of armed struggle against the government, recently hit a snag.

The Cagayan ambush occurred a few days after seven soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded in a Sulu firefight with the extremist group Abu Sayyaf. (With reports from Rizaldy Comanda, Freddie G. Lazaro, and Elena L. Aben)

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