Relatives demand justice for soldiers killed in Abra rebel attack

Jimmy Viernes and Ariz Bautista —PHOTOS COURTESY OF 5TH PHILIPPINE ARMY ID

GAMU, ISABELA – Philippine Army Pfc. Ariz Bautista, from the city of Santo Domingo in Ilocos Sur province, was the sole breadwinner in their family, financially supporting his two older siblings and their widowed mother.

His fellow soldier, Pfc. Jimmy Viernes, from Tuyao city in Cagayan province, was married to a teacher and father of a 2-month-old baby.

Bautista was just 26 and Viernes was 25 when an ambush by suspected communist rebels ended their lives on Thursday, while the two army men and two others were sent on a mission to help the victims of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Abra province on Tuesday.

On Friday, relatives of Bautista and Viernes attacked the murder as they called on President Marcos to help them get justice for the fallen soldiers, said Captain Rigor Pamittan, spokesman for the 5th Infantry Division (ID) of the army.

‘Hero’

The soldiers were from the army’s 24th Infantry Battalion (IB), the Abra-based unit of the 5th ID, the army’s infantry unit in North Luzon headquartered in the province of Isabella.

Pamittan said immediate family members were “devastated” by the deaths of the two soldiers, who they said were “too young to die”.

In a phone interview, Pamitan said the two slain soldiers and their two companions had been hailed as “heroes” by the military for risking their lives to help earthquake victims.

The army had previously condemned the ambush, describing it as a “barbaric act” by the communist rebels.

In a statement, Colonel Ricardo Garcia III, commander of the 24th BI, assured the families of the victims that the army would bring the perpetrators to justice.

At least 10 members of the New People’s Army operating in Abra attacked government troops at Barangay Gacab in Malibcong town in Abra as the soldiers moved towards Baay-Licuan town, about 26 kilometers from Malibcong, to reinforce troops involved in relief and disaster relief operations. , says Pamitan.

Bautista and Viernes died on the spot, while their two companions, Pfc. Randy Cinco, 28, and PFC. Reymond Galo, 28, was injured.

The bodies of the two soldiers were already recovered and taken to a funeral home in Bangued, the capital of Abra, on Thursday evening, while their injured companions were treated in a hospital, Pamittan said.

On Friday, the Cordillera Regional Council for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management also condemned the incident, saying it “revealed their (communist rebels’) blatant disregard for the welfare of the Filipino people for which they claim to fight “.

—VILLAMOR VISAYA JR.

READ: 2 soldiers en route to disaster response operations killed in ambush

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Elna M. Lemons