CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 Oct) – The New People’s Army (NPA) released around 6 p.m. Tuesday the six mattress peddlers from Initao, Misamis Oriental who were earlier captured after being suspected as spies.
The Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), in a text message, said James Mabaylan, Nelson Bagares, Ronald Boiles, Segundino Dailo, Ernesto Callo Jr. and Julieto Sarsaba, all of Barangay Tubigan, Initao town in Misamis Oriental, were released at the Paquibato District in Davao City to the Sowing the Seeds for Peace, a group headed by Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI).
Timeline of NPAs “POW” (Legend: RED: BJMP | PURPLE : Vednors | YELLOW: Dano and escorts)
The freed victims were then turned over to Misamis Oriental Vice Gov. Norris Babiera in Cagayan de Oro City later in the evening. He presented the Initao vendors in a press conference held at the provincial capitol today.
Babiera told reporters he met the six peddlers at the IFI church at Barangay Bulua here Tuesday night together with IFI church leaders and convenors of the Sowing the Seeds for Peace.
He added that they were instructed by the NPAs to deliver the six peddlers to their families.
Babiera said the NPAs turned over the six peddlers’ sales proceeds totaling P54,074, their cellphones and other personal belongings.
Contrary to reports of local radio stations here, Babiera said the NPAs did not demand for prisoner exchange nor ransom for the six peddlers.
Sarsaba said they were abducted in Sitio Carbon, Paquibato District, Davao del Norte by NPAs led by Leoncio “Kumander Parago” Pitao on August 20.
“We did not approach the barangay chair but only asked around if there were still houses in the area so we could sell our mattresses. But then we were accosted by around 10 armed guerillas,” he said.
They were then interrogated one by one by the guerillas, asked where they came from and why they entered the area.
Dailo said they were treated humanely all throughout the 53 days they were held in captivity. “We ate what they ate and we were treated like brothers,” he added.
The NPA, in a text message sent last week, said the Initao vendors “have been repeatedly reported to have hounded and harassed our communities by passing themselves off as former NPA comrades and most of the routes they took are the roads usually used by the military whenever they conduct combat operations.”
The craftsmen of Tubigan in Initao have long been known for the sleep mattresses they make. Many of them sell the mattresses to many parts of Mindanao, braving the risks.
However, a member of the government peace panel said the release of the six peddlers will not affect how they will decide on the release of NDF consultants.
“The Initao traders are civilians, hence their abduction was a clear violation of human rights,” said Ednar Dayanghirang, peace panel member. He pointed out that the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front has nothing to do with the abduction of the Initao traders.
“Can you equate the civilian traders’ abduction with rebellion? The BJMP [Bureau of Jail Management and Penology] officers’ and [Lingig, Surigao Del Sur] Mayor Henry Dano’s abduction as actions in pursuit of rebellion? Let the public express their opinion,” he added. (Cong B. Corrales / MindaNews)