Humbled Cammayo remains defiant

Cammayo said he remained "loyal to the government" and insisted he was "captured" and "did not surrender" as the Medardo Arce Command of the NPA earlier said in a statement.

The Army officer appeared in good spirits when he was turned over by the receiving team headed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte at the Sto. Tomas Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.

Duterte immediately whisked Cammayo to his private helicopter and flew him to the headquarters of the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom).

Cammayo was seized by his captors during a fierce encounter between the NPA rebels and government soldiers in a remote village in Monkayo, Davao del Norte on November 7.

His release hit several snags as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) refused to negotiate with his NPA captors and instead launched massive operations to rescue the Army officer, a native of Tuguegarao, Cagayan province.

Breach

Mayor Duterte fumed when Col. Joel Ybanez, 1003rd Infantry Brigade commanding officer, appeared unannounced and apparently uninvited at the Sto. Tomas Elementary School together with a team of soldiers and intelligence officers in civilian clothes.

Ybanez himself was not in uniform.

"I don't like your behavior. Next time, hindi na ako makialam (I won't take any part [in similar negotiations])," Duterte berated Ybanez, who offered his hands of greetings to the city mayor.

Duterte declined to touch hands with Ybanez.

The mayor said it was his understanding that no military men will be present at the turnover site as this was his commitment to the NPA.

It was Duterte who worked for the release of Cammayo after the AFP refused to hold negotiations with the rebel group.

Cammayo was supposed to be released before New Year's Day but continued military operations in several towns in Davao del Norte prompted the NPA to withhold his turnover.

The Medardo Arce Command of the New People's Army earlier issued an order for his release as a gesture of goodwill from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which celebrated its 40th founding anniversary last December 26.

The NPA is the military wing of the communist rebel group.

Duterte immediately showed his displeasure upon disembarking from his private helicopter, apparently already told that several Army soldiers were at the pre-arranged turnover rendezvous point several minutes before the mayor was scheduled to arrive.

"Kayong mga Army, alis kayo dito," he barked (All Army men, get out of here).

The mayor was accompanied by his daughter, Davao City Vice Mayor Sarah Duterte.

Ruptured eardrums

Cammayo spoke during a brief ceremony in Barangay Esperanza in Loreto, Agusan del Sur where close to a hundred NPA rebels, reportedly belonging to the Davao-Agusan command, were on hand.

He said the ongoing conflict in the countryside won't help the country move forward. He then urged the rebe
ls to join the government and join the peace process.

The Army officer appeared in good health when he was turned over to Duterte by ICRC sub-head of delegation to the Philippines Cedric Piralla.

But Eastmincom spokesperson Maj. Randolph Cabangbang said Cammayo suffered ruptured eardrums and his nose was bleeding when the NPA rebels seized him.

Cabangbang said Cammayo suffered his injury when a grenade exploded near his face.

"This proved that Cammayo was wounded during the encounter," he said and added that the Army officer also showed rope marks on his feet.

The NPA earlier claimed Cammayo surrendered unharmed after two of his enlisted men and a government militiaman were killed during the initial volley of fire in an ambush. 

Cammayo was not allowed to speak before reporters when Duterte handed him over to Eastmincom chief Maj. Gen. Armando Cunanan.

He immediately underwent medical checkup and tactical debriefing before being flown to Manila Tuesday evening to be reunited with his eight-month pregnant wife Mariel.

"I am overwhelmed," she told a local daily in Davao City. "I am very joyful about the news, and I thank God for his release. And to all the people who have contributed to the successful release of my husband." 

Cabangbang said the Philippine Army will hold further debriefing with the Special Forces officer.

Prisoner of war

The NPA has continued to refer to Cammayo as a "prisoner of war" (POW).

The rebel group however said Cammayo's rights under the Geneva Protocol were respected and that he was treated "humanely."

"The New People's Army custodial unit of Prisoner of War 1Lt. Vicente P. Cammayo (SN 864629) undertook safe and orderly release procedures today in the boundary of Laac, Compostela Valley Province and Loreto, Agusan del Sur. This is a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Communist Party of the Philippines on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. It further manifests the good faith of the NPA to its earlier statement in relation to the said POW's release on the first week of the new year," rebel spokesman Rigoberto Sanchez said in a statement.

The NPA earlier said Cammayo was treated and fed well although he was "tied from time to time" as a security measure. A source said charges filed against the Army officer for alleged human rights violations "were effectively suspended" following his release.

A rebel source however said this will not prevent the group from "reopening" his case if Cammayo will run after them.

The rebel group was reported to have made three requests from Duterte as a condition for the release of Cammayo.

Duterte declined to reveal what the NPA rebels demanded but sources said the release of one arrested NDF consultant whose identity was not revealed and the settlement of a land conflict involving an indigenous tribe in Davao province were among the issues brought up by the rebel group.

Duterte has gone on record that he already did his part and that there was no longer any reason for the NPAs to continue on "detaining" Cammayo.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, said Cammayo was abducted and the NPAs should be held liable for their "criminal acts."

"There's no reason for anybody to be grateful to the NPA for the release of Lt. Cammayo. His release is not an act of goodwill. Being a criminal act, those who are behind the abduction must be held responsible under a legitimate justice system and we shall continue our vigorous military operation to pursue the abductors," AFP Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said in a statement sent via SMS to media outlets and journalists. (Edwin G. Espejo / MindaNews contributor)

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