CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 Sept) — The New People’s Army’s Front 88 in the hinterlands of Bukidnon province has admitted to arresting six peddlers of sleeping mats for alleged espionage.
In a telephone interview Friday, Ariel Inda Magbanwag, spokesperson for NPA’s Bukidnon-North Central Mindanao Area, said the peddlers, reported missing for over a month now, were caught doing surveillance work while selling their wares door-to-door.
“The selling of mats, door-to-door, is just their cover so they can enter barangays and sitios suspected by the military as sympathetic to the revolutionary movement,” Magbanwag said.
She said the six peddlers will be tried in the “People’s Court.”
Abducted while plying their wares along the boundary-sitios of San Fernando town, Bukidnon and Davao del Norte, were James Mabaylan, Nelson Bagares, Ronald Boiles, Segundino Dailo, Ernesto Callo Jr. and Julieto Sarsaba, all of Initao town in Misamis Oriental.
Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Norris Babiera said the peddlers were reported missing since August 10.
The worried relatives of the victims also asked the assistance and intercession of Bukidnon Bishop Jose Cabantan.
Cabantan said in a text message to MindaNews that he does not believe the mat peddlers were spying for the Philippine Army.
“I don’t think they are spies. That has been their livelihood in Initao. It’s a pity that poor people who are struggling to live meaningful and righteous (lives) are abducted on mere suspicion. I pity their families, their wives whom I have talked to,” the Bishop said.
In a telephone interview Friday, Lt. Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, chief of the 8th Infantry Battalion based in Bukidnon, denied having known the captured peddlers or that they were working for the military “in any capacity.”
“I do not know these persons. All I know is they were plain traders. They are not spies and we do not employ spies to do surveillance work,” he said.
“This is plain kidnapping. I will not be surprised if they (NPA) will demand ransom in the days to come,” Cuerpo said.
Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, criticized the NPA for abducting the “simple businessmen” and called it “an act of plain banditry.”
“They have gone from ideologues to robbers and kidnappers. I do not understand why they have resorted to this. What they have been doing has no connection whatsoever to the supposed ideals they supposedly are fighting for,” Osias said. (Cong B. Corrales/MindaNews)