HINIMBANGAN, Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/30 July) – The release Tuesday of four policemen who were held captive by the New People’s Army since July 10 was a gesture of goodwill to advance the peace process between the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines, a rebel leader said.
PO3 Vic Calubag Concon, PO1 Rey O’niel Morales, PO1 Joen Zabala and PO1 Edito Roquino, all of Alegria, Surigao del Norte were released in this village escorted by around 200 NPA guerrillas belonging to Front 16-A.
The four policemen were seized by a blocking force of the New People’s Army during the raid on the Alegria police station last July 10.
During the release, Ka Joaquin, who spoke on behalf of Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, NDFP-Mindanao spokesperson said “this release is a goodwill gesture to promote the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and as a response to the appeal of the families of the Prisoners of War.”
Ka Joaquin said Ka Oris himself could have witnessed the release had the government granted the request of the NDFP for a 10-day ceasefire.
He said the NDFP asked for no pre-condition other than the conduct of safe release of the captives.
He added the release could have happened earlier had the local crisis committee agreed to the proposal for a 10-day ceasefire.
Ka Joaquin said they no longer subjected their captives to a “preliminary investigation and possible litigation before the people’s court” because they wanted to relay to government their willingness to resume peace negotiations.
“Now that we have released the POWs (prisoners of war) we hope the peace process could continue,” he said.
The policemen told reporters that they were in good condition.
“The rebels provided everything we need. They even gave us vitamins,” said Zabala.
He added they were always on the move, although they were not blindfolded and were treated well.
He said they were really afraid during the first few days but their captors always assured them.
During their first night in captivity, they said they could not sleep because they were so worried about their families.
“We thanked the rebels for taking care of us in the mountain. We were never physically harmed and we were always given food,” Zabala said.
Morales said: “The rebels provided us safety and security. The have a medical team who frequently conducted checkups on us. We moved from one place to another to ensure we would not be caught in an encounter.”
Resume peace talks
Bishop Rhee Timbang of the Independent Church of the Philippines-Surigao Diocese, who headed the third party facilitators, thanked the rebels for treating their captives well and for heeding their plea for their safe release.
He said he was hoping the release would help push the resumption of peace talks.
“We want everlasting peace. We don’t want this thing to happen again and again. We don’t want violence,” he added.
Surigao del Norte Provincial Board Member Myrna M. Romarate, who also witnessed the release urged the government to make a step forward for the resumption of peace talks.
“We have to achieve one goal here and that’s to attain peace and order in our province and to the country as well,” she said.
Romarate said one of the captives, Requino, is the husband of her niece. She said this was the reason she forced herself to climb up the remote village to personally witness the release.
She said she was not afraid since there was a truce between the communist guerillas and government forces.
Bacuag Mayor Shiela Mae Orquina Cebedo, Surigao City Councilors Jose Begil Jr. and Baltazar Abian, Agusan del Norte Gov. Angel Amante, Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr., Kitcharao Mayor Aristotle Montante and Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Hernani Braganza also witnessed the release.
After the release, the four policemen were brought to the Kitcharao Central Elementary School where DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles and Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima and the families of the policemen were waiting.
It was a tearful reunion for the policemen and their respective families as the freed captives arrived at the school and their wives met and embraced them.
More than fiesta
Alvin Ponce, a village councilor in Hinimbangan said he could not believe the number of people who came to witness the release.
He said it was his first time to see such a large number of NPA rebels. He admitted having seen rebels pass by the village before but only in small numbers.
“It’s more than fiesta here today,” he said. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)