TULUNAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/27 April) — A soldier seized at an “Army” checkpoint manned by the New People’s Army (NPA) early morning of April 21 in Malasila town was released in an upland village here late afternoon of April 26 to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte
The release came a day after five police officers were freed in Paquibato district also to the Presidential frontrunner.
But five more captives remain in the hands of the the NPA in the northern part of Mindanao, Efren Aksasato, spokersperson of the National Democratic Front-Far South Mindanao Region (NDF-FSMR), told the crowd of civilians and NPA guerrillas at the barangay plaza.
REUNITED. Army PFC Edgardo Hilaga of the 7th Infantry Battallion reunites with his family in an upland village in Tulunan, North Cotabato on April 26, 2016. Hilaga was arrested by members of the New People’s Army at a checkpoint in Barangay Malasila, Makilala on April 21. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Years before he became a Presidential candidate, Duterte as Davao City mayor or as chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council, had been receiving soldiers and policemen freed by the NPA and from the area of release, he would turn them over to their superiors.
Family members rushed to embrace the 24-year old Pfc Edgardo Hilaga of the 7th Infantry Battalion at 1:47 p.m. as he was about to go up the stage escorted by the NPA’s custodial force. But his parents and sister had to wait a few more hours, as Duterte, who was expected to arrive at 1 p.m., arrived at 4:22 p.m.
Hilaga’s wife waited at home with their two-month old firstborn.
Hilaga said he was rushing to return to his base on a motorcyle at 4:50 a.m. on April 21 when he was stopped at a checkpoint marked “Army” in Sitio Crossing Balawan, Barangay Malasila in Makilala. He immediately identified himself as a soldier thinking those who stopped him were from the Army.
Makilala Mayor Rudy Caoagdan, who attended the turnover rites, told MindaNews he immediately convened the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) and asked the military to hold off operations while they negotiate for Hilaga’s release.
Aksasato said Hilaga was freed after he was cleared of involvement in war crimes and human rights abuses committed by the 7th IB in North Cotabato.
“Salamat sa nagtabang sa akoa. Salamat sa nagtabang sa akoa” (thank you to all who workd for my release), Hilaga said.
Aksasato said the CMC also wrote NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni on April 22 to seek his release.
Hilaga rode with Duterte on board a helicopter bound for the Eastern Mindanao Command in Panacan, Davao City, where he was turned over.
From Paquibato district last Monday, the five freed police officers were also brought by helicopter to the headquarters of the Police Regional Office 11 at Camp Quintin M. Merecido in Davao City at past 4 p.m.
They were days flagged down on their way to a village in Paquibato to attend to a civilian who was injured in a clash between the military and the NPA.
Released after nine days in captivity were Chief Insp. Leonardo V. Tarongoy, the station commander of Paquibato Police Station; PO3 Rosenie L. Cabuenas; PO3 Rudolf Pacete; PO3 Abdul Azis A. Ali Jr.; and PO2 Neil C. Arellano.
Duterte said he asked the leadership of the NPA in Southern Mindanao to release the five as they had nothing to do with the military operations.
“They are just there to investigate. Pano pag may nakawan, ni-rape?,” he told reporters at the PRO 11. He recalled the instances how he appealed for the release of abducted police officers in the past.
Duterte has repeatedly vowed he would resume peace negotiations with the NDF when he becomes President (see other story). “We cannot fight forever. We must talk,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)