SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/11 October) — As if to mirror the cordial turnout of peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway, a top military officer in Surigao del Norte recently met with three ranking leaders of the New People’s Army in the province.
Lt. Col. Rico Amaro, 30th Infantry Battalion commander based in Sta. Cruz, Placer town said he had a picnic with three officers of the NPA Guerrilla Front 16.
Escorted by a handful of soldiers, he said he met Ka Edroy, the front’s political officer; Ka Lucas, a high-ranking NPA member; and Ka Oto, the front’s spokesperson.
He said both parties brought no firearms to the undisclosed rendezvous where they tackled local issues.
“The meeting was intended to establish acquaintance, trust, and confidence among us as well as settle some conflicts in the observance of our respective Interim Suspension of Offensive Operations. We will be ready to give the public full details about the meeting once the GPH-NDFP Bilateral Ceasefire Declaration is published after the 2nd round of talks in Oslo between the two negotiating panels,” Amaro told MindaNews on Sunday.
30th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Rico Amaro (2nd from left) meets New People’s Army leaders somewhere in the mountains of Surigao del Norte recently. At left is Ka Oto, spokesperson of Guerrilla Front. The others are Ka Lucas, a high ranking NPA member, and Ka Edroy, the front’s political officer. Photo courtesy of 30th IB
Amaro said he had obtained approval from his higher-ups to meet with the NPA.
“Armed engagements have been futile for more than four decades. We believe it’s time to resort to non-traditional but well-meaning solutions towards peace to our common constituents which is the masses,” he added.
The military officer stressed that the NPA leaders were not at all hostile to them.
“He treated me with overwhelming hospitality. Salamat Karajaw, (Thank you very much),” he said.
He said it was the first time in history that ground commanders from both sides of the conflict met for the sake of long-lasting peace.
(During the short-lived ceasefire from late 1986 to early 1987, military and rebel commanders in various provinces across the country saw each other in forums and other activities related to the peace talks that collapsed after the Mendiola Massacre. — Ed.)
Ka Oto told MindaNews over the phone on Monday that the meeting was a success.
“Given the observance of interim ceasefire as part of the ongoing peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, it’s true that we have personally met each other for the sake of order and long-lasting peace,” he said in the vernacular.
Amaro said they have invited the communist rebels for a dragon boat row.
“30IB and GF 16 NPAs in one boat, rowing towards a single objective,” he said, adding the communist rebels were looking forward to this activity.
Former Bacuag town mayor Sheila Mae Orquina-Cebedo posted on Facebook a photo of the NPA leaders along with Amaro.
“Awesome. Nothing is impossible,” the words accompanying the photo said.
Johanne Jake Miranda, a businessman and water sports enthusiast in Surigao City also shared the same picture that has gone viral.
“This is a truly remarkable photo taken recently. Second from right is 30th Infantry Battalion Army Colonel Rico Amaro visiting neutral territory somewhere in the mountains. With him are NPA leaders. They are all unarmed.
“Col Amaro is the truest form of a peace warrior. Lt. Col. Amaro and I are also inviting them down from the mountains to the wonderful seas of Surigao for a friendly Dragon Boat match either against each other or in mixed teams,” Miranda said. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)