Nabbed were Mary Bernadette Solitario, 21, resident of General Santos City; and Lourelie Naiz, 22, of Kidapawan City. Both are workers of the Disaster Response Center (DIRECT), an NGO based in Davao City.
Tulunan Mayor Nestor Taasan said the two workers were suspected of being members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
The workers were reportedly scheduled to monitor and evaluate last Saturday a project in Barangay Batang, a remote village in Tulunan where clashes between government troops and NPA rebels were ongoing, when they were abducted by armed men riding a motorcycle without a plate number.
Taasan said that two days before the NGO workers’ scheduled visit, they coordinated with him to ensure that the area is safe after the reported encounter between elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion and the NPA in sitio Labusong, Barangay Bacong in Tulunan.
He even told the two that he would take them along in his vehicle and arranged the pickup place.
But when Solitario and Naiz reached the meeting place, Taasan told them that he would go to the area first to check the peace and order situation.
The two then decided to take a public ride, according to reports from the Interfaith Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights (IFAAPR), a human rights group based in Kidapawan City.
At 2:45 p.m., the two rode a jeepney towards Barangay La Esperanza, and then took a “skylab” (term used for motorcycles with extensions on both sides) to Barangay Batang.
Along the way, the “skylab” driver noticed three TS motorcycles parked at Sitio Alimodian in Barangay Bacong, which then chased them, forcing the “skylab” driver to stop.
Naiz then reported the incident to the mayor. She was talking to Taasan when one of the armed men grabbed her cell phone. Solitario’s phone was also taken.
At 4:18 p.m., the two were made to board a red pick-up vehicle on the way towards Barangay La Esperanza while a white pick-up car followed, according to a documentation prepared by the Karapatan-North Cotabato, a human rights group based in Kidapawan City.
Taasan said the Army held the two NGO workers for more than 24 hours. Around 7 p.m. last Sunday, they brought Solitario and Naiz to the town’s Poblacion.
In a press statement, Pastor Ernesto Estrella of the IFAAPR condemned the abduction of the two NGO workers, saying it was a human rights violation.
“We are not surprised by this. As always, when the military loses a battle against the NPA, they would usually attack the civilians,” said Estrella.
The armed clashes started last Friday after the NPA raided an Army company detachment in Barangay Bituan, also a remote village in Tulunan, and carted away 22 high-powered firearms, including 18 Garand rifles, one M-16 and three M-14 rifles.