[PHOTO - Residents gather at the scene where nine people, including civilians, village watchmen and policemen, were ambushed by gunmen hiding in a sugarcane field in La Castellana, Negros Occidental last Sunday. AP]

BACOLOD CITY, FEBRUARY 1, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Danny Dangcalan - Police are readying murder charges against at least 20 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) for last Sunday’s ambush in La Castellana, Negros Occidental that left nine people dead.

Senior Superintendent Celestino Guara Jr., acting Negros Occidental police director, said they have the names of the 20 NPA fighters who were behind what police and military authorities dubbed as a “massacre of civilians.”

Based on the accounts of the survivors, Guara said some of the NPA suspects are based in southern Negros. He added though that the list was still being validated yesterday.

Guara said they would file charges of murder and frustrated murder against the suspects today at the earliest.

More than 300 empty shells of assorted high-powered firearms, such as M-14 and M-16 and an AK 47 assault rifle, were recovered at the ambush site, the military said.

Killed in the attack were PO1 Richard Canja, believed to be the real target of the ambushers; Jonathan Mateo, Ulysses Tamayor and Ramil Compleza, members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team of the Cabacungan police outpost; barangay watchmen Mario Ricablanca and Timoteo Esplegera; driver Ricky Dingcong; and civilians Lito Lucban and Virginia Ordoñez.

The victims were onboard a Fuso Canter truck on their way home to the La Castellana town proper, after providing security to the fiesta celebration in Barangay Puso, when the ambush took place.

Because of the attack, La Castellana town has been included in the election watch list of the Provincial Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center, composed of the Commission on Elections, the Philippine National Police, and the Army.

This brings to 12 the number of towns and cities in Negros Occidental tagged as election hotspots.

Guara said the Army’s 302nd Infantry Brigade would put up a detachment and assign additional personnel in Barangay Puso to ensure the safety of the residents.

He said they did not conclude immediately that NPA rebels were behind the attack because the underground movement is perceived to value human life.

But from all indications, he said the insurgents were the only ones capable of such an inhuman act because of the number of firearms and ammunition used.

Col. Oscar Lactao, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, yesterday said the election watch list would be subjected to validation from time to time, adding that not the entire town or city, just one or two barangays or sitios, is tagged as hotspot.

More groups have condemned the ambush, including Bayan Muna, Peace Advocates of Negros, and the Diocese of Bacolod.

The Commission on Human Rights is doing a parallel investigation into the ambush, which also left 12 other people, including two policemen, wounded.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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