Some 147 families, or more than 700 people, fled their homes to avoid getting caught in clashes caused by the ongoing military operations in Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte.

Major Eugenio Osias, Army 4th Infantry Division spokesman, said the affected families are mostly from Kitcharao, which hosts a “staging point” or stronghold of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Ang huling report ay pabalik na sila sa mga bahay kasi na-clear na ng tropa ‘yung different barangays, tinutulungan na sila ng local government na makauwi,” Osias said in a phone interview.

The offensive, which has been going on since the first week of March, involves a brigade, or about 1,500 soldiers backed by attack helicopters and field artillery.

“We are not giving any timeline for this operation but we are doing everything we can to end this soon,” Osias said.

The latest clash occurred 5:40 p.m. Friday, with members of the 8th Special Forces Company figuring in an hour-long firefight with about 40 rebels at Sitio Kamalig, Brgy. Puting Bato, Cabadbaran City.

The troops suffered no casualties while the rebels left an AK-47 rifle had an “undetermined number” of killed and injured on their side, Osias said.

“This is a division-initiated operation with the goal of getting the extortionists saka ‘yung mga nanununog, ang tawag namin sa kanila ay hindrances to development,” he said.

According to Osias, NPA members demand as much as an “unvalidated” amount of P125 million per annum from big multinational companies in the Caraga region, including those involved in the mining, wood, construction, paper, and industrial sector.

“Pati mga mini-groceries sa mga bayan meron na ding quota na 30 percent every month, nung isang linggo nga may lechonan pa eh, hiningnan ng lechon kasi birthday daw ng kumander,” he said. (John Roson)

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