Burned bus was on its second day of plying Marbel-Tacurong-Davao route

TALUNTALUNAN, Makilala, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 13 March) — A newly-acquired passenger bus on its second day of plying the Marbel-Tacurong-Davao route was burned by suspected communist rebels at Purok 6 here at around 8:30 a.m. Monday, after asking its passengers and drivers to disembark, police said.

The burning came a day after Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced from Utrecht, The Netherlands that the government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) at the end of the March 10 and 11 backchannel talks, had agreed to put the peace process back on track after month-long skirmishes and that they would each restore the unilateral ceasefire they lifted last month, before the fourth round of formal peace talks in Oslo first week of April.

Suspected members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) torched a bus of the Yellow Bus Line (YBL) in Purok 6, Barangay Taluntalunan, Makilala, North at around 8:30 a.m. 13 March 2017. The bus was bound for Davao City from Koronadal City via Tacurong. MINDANEWS PHOTO

In a report to Makilala Mayor Rudy Caoagdan, Police Chief Inspector Elias Colonia said the Yellow Bus Line unit driven by Victor Bernabat Serondo was moving along the Tacurong-Makilala highway when six suspects who were among the passengers “pointed their guns towards the driver” upon reaching Sitio Bagong Silang, Barangay San Vicente, and ordered him to turn right towards Purok 6, Barangay Taluntalunan.

From the highway, the bus was burned about a hundred meters along the one-way road.

Colonia’s report said that upon reaching Purok 6, armed men, suspected to be members of  Guerrilla 72 of the New People’s Army, ordered the passengers, conductor, inspector and driver to disembark,  poured gasoline inside the bus and set it on fire.

An official of the Yellow Bus company who had just arrived at the site from Koronadal City told MindaNews that the newly-acquired airconditioned bus was on its second day of operations along that route. He requested not to be named.

Farmer Jack Sunico, 27, said he was attending to his coffee trees nearby when he heard a loud explosion, apparently from the tires that burst when the bus was burning.  He said he saw men wearing masks on five motorcycles — four with driver and passengers) headed to the interiors of the barangay immediately after.

As of 9 p.m., the NPA had yet to issue a statement confirming or denying responsibility behind the bus burning.

“Not yet effective”

In a statement from Amsterdam, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said he was getting “disturbing reports of alleged atrocities by the NPA” like the bus burning in Makilala.

Inside the Yellow Bus Line unit that was burned by suspected members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) in Purok 6, Barangay Taluntalunan, Makilala, North at around 8:30 a.m. 13 March 2017. The bus, bound for Davao City from Koronadal City via Tacurong, was on its second day of plying that route. MINDANEWS PHOTO

Dureza said  the restoration of unilateral ceasefire that he announced Sunday is “not yet effective as of today as there is still a need to allow the government and the communist leaders to inform their respective ground forces accordingly.”

“Except for the government forces where there is a tight command and control structure in place and directives from higher headquarters are downloaded expeditiously, the same is NOT true with the NPAs, for obvious reasons,” Durea said.

He explained that the ceasefire shall take effect “as soon as both sides agree to a date specific” which he said “should be anytime before the first week of April 2017,” the fourth round of formal peace talks.

He said he had “informally raised” during the two-day backchannel talks that ended March 11 in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the possibility of “eruption of incidents”  hence “the urgency of an early effectivity announcement considering my previous experience of similar situations in my earlier ceasefire negotiations with other groups (e.g. Bangsamoro) with some factions creating disturbances just to show defiance or merely as an attempt of projection of eminence by some of their elements.”

Dureza said these  incidents “affect the over-all sentiments of peace- loving citizens who may even raise issues of good faith and may lead to questions as to whether or not rebel groups we are engaging in the peace tables are sincere or have control over their ground forces.”

He added that public acceptance to the ongoing peace process is “critical, given the indispensable need of over-all stakeholders’ support to ensure success of our peace efforts.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)