Alleged NPA leader nabbed in Agusan Sur; rebels free 3 soldiers, militiaman

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/04 May) – An alleged commander of the New People’s Army (NPA) was arrested by policemen and members of the 23rd Infantry Battalion manning a Commission on Elections composite checkpoint in Esperanza town in Agusan Del Sur on Monday afternoon.

Ricardo Manili aka Commander Joker, said to be the fourth most wanted person in Caraga Region, was nabbed in Barangay Remedios.

Manili carried a P4.9-million reward on his head, according to police regional director Chief Supt. Rolando Felix.

“Commander Joker was inside a van without an authorized plate, that inside the van the police team were also able to get a homemade shotgun, a caliber .45 pistol, a 9mm pistol, an improvised explosive device, grenade, two blasting caps, three bolos, several rounds of ammunition, medical kit and other documents and personal belongings,” Felix said.

“There were also six individuals inside the van with him who are now under investigation to verify their real names and assess if they are together with Commander Joker and members of the NPA,” he added.

Felix, who assumed his post in January this year, considered the capture a big achievement for the region’s police force.

“This is an achievement not only for the police but also for our brothers in the Army and a huge hit to the leadership of the NPA here in Caraga Region. Commander Joker is knows to be an institution within the armed movement, I’m sure his capture will have an impact towards the NPA,” he said.

A police field report said the vehicle was on its way to Bayugan City through the new road along Esperanza and believed to have come from barangay Tungao in Butuan City.

Police said Manili has an outstanding warrant for two counts of rebellion, two counts of murder, robbery with homicide, two counts of multiple murder and arson.

In October 2011, the 4th Infantry Battalion made a report that Manili was killed in an encounter in Barangay Calabuan, Esperanza along with four other guerrillas.

The NPA refuted the military report.

Manili was last seen on camera as the NPA commander who handed over the release of Corporal Adriano Bingil of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion on December 31, 2015 in Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte.

On Monday, the National Democratic Front-North Central Mindanao issued a statement that Manili’s arrest would not hamper the scheduled release of Privates First Class Diven Tawide and Glen Austria, two members of the 23rd Infantry Battalion who were held as captives by the NPA.

NDF regional spokesperson Cesar Renerio said they expect the military and police to treat Manili the way the NPA treats its “prisoners-of-war” especially since Manili is suffering from emphysema of the lungs.

He said Manili’s companions who were also arrested are relatives who attended to him whenever the disease attacks.

He said his relatives should be released if the police could attend to Manili’s medical needs.

Renerio claimed the explosives and other weapons allegedly found inside the van were planted to justify the arrest.

The rebel made good of its promise by releasing on Tuesday afternoon not just Tawide and Austria but also Corporal Jawad Awadi and militiaman Roy Perez.

The release took place in Balit village in San Luis, Agusan del Sur.

Ka Omar Ibarra, the NPA’s custodial officer said his comrades saw Awadi and Perez roaming around the venue of the release in civilian clothes. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)