MATANAO, Davao del Sur (MindaNews/19 April) — Two non-commissioned officers of the Philippine Army regained their freedom on Wednesday, after almost three months of captivity in the hands of communist rebels.
Sgt Soliman Calocop and Pfc Samuel Garay, who were captured by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, were released to their wives and relatives somewhere in Matanao, Davao del Sur.
Garay’s wife Jessa Mae and Calocop’s wife Normalia wept as they embraced their husbands when they were presented and released to local government officials. Both sat on the laps of their husbands wiping their tears and then thanked the custodial unit of the NPA Mt. Alip Command for sparing the lives of their loved ones.
Calocop and Garay, members of the 39th Infantry Battalion, when they were ‘arrested’ by the NPA in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on Feb. 2 this year on their way to their headquarters in Makilala, North Cotabato.
Their capture came days after the NPA General Command headed by Jorge Madlos alias Ka Oris announced it was withdrawing the unilateral ceasefire it declared when the peace talks with the Philippine government were resumed in August last year.
Ka Macario Dilaab, spokesperson of the Mt. Alip Command of the NPA Far South Mindanao Regional Command said they release the two soldiers on humanitarian grounds and in support to the peace talks between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Ka Macario said the NPA would have released their captives earlier had their been a suspension of police and military operations in the area.
He said the two were actively engaged in gathering information on the movement of the rebels but showed remorse and thus were spared from punishment.
The captives were turned over to Columbio Vice Mayor Edwin Bermudez, South Cotabato Board Member Romulo Solivio and members of the peace advocacy group Sowing the Seeds of Peace represented by Bishop Redeemer Yañez, who facilitated their release.
Also present were Davao del Sur provincial administrator and former representative Marc Douglas Cagas who represented his father Gov. Douglas Cagas.
Calocop thanked the NPA for releasing them unharmed. Garay, on the other hand, thanked the NPA for letting them return to their respective families.
Garay added: “Wala mi nila gipasagdan sulod sa hapit mi mag-tulo ka bulan sa ilaha. Wala gyud mi katilaw ug mga pasakit sa ilaha. Bisan gamayng istorya nga pasakit sa amoa, wala mi nila gihilabtan (They took care of us in the close to three months that we were with them (NPA). They never harmed us. They did not even say words that would hurt us, they never touched us).”
Garay’s wife said it was the longest period that she was away from her husband who she said would visit their home in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur at least once a month.
“When I learned they were to be released I couldn’t sleep. I was just waiting for the moment we were to travel to meet them,” said Jessa Mae, who is five months pregnant with their first child.
Ka Macario defended their continuing collection of “revolutionary taxes” as an authority of the revolutionary movement which is similar to the government’s practice of collecting taxes from the people.
President Rodrigo Duterte had told the rebels to stop collecting “revolutionary taxes” as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks.
The government and the NDF have resumed negotiations after these were terminated in February following allegations of violations of the unilateral ceasefire declared by both sides last year.
But in The Netherlands last month, both parties agreed to explore the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement after defining its mechanics and parameters.
The fifth round of peace negotiations will take place in late May, also in The Netherlands. (Manman Dejeto/MindaNews)