Army denies abducting 2 peasant leaders; but admits detaining 1

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/02 December) – The Army in North Cotabato vehemently denied reports they were responsible for the recent abduction of two leaders of a farmers group suspected to be sympathetic to the communist movement.

On Monday, reports went around that soldiers belonging to the 10th Special Forces Company abducted Jonard Calombro, and elements of the 57th Infantry Battalion picked up Leonardo Mellomida.

Calombro was allegedly taken from his house in Barangay Kabalantian in Arakan town, while Mellomida was snatched along Barangay Manobo in Magpet town.

Captain Mark Espiritu, commander of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Company, denied the allegations saying they had no sufficient reason to snatch Calombro.

Espiritu, however, admitted having sent some of his men at Calombro’s house to check on his whereabouts.

“I was told Calombro has already joined the rebel movement so I had him checked.  But my purpose then was to save him from being manipulated by the communists,” he said.

Espiritu, however, said Calombro was no longer in his house when his men arrived there.

“So there’s no truth we abducted him,” he added.

Reports later said that Calombro left the village after learning he was being placed under military surveillance.

Calombro is a leader of the Farmers Association in Kabalantian, which is under the Arakan Progressive Peasant Organization (APPO), one of the groups supported by slain Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio.

Farmers said the APPO is under the military’s “watch list.”

Mellomida, meanwhile, was declared missing after his alleged abduction by elements of the 57th IB while on his way to Barangay Manobo on Tuesday, according to reports.

The Army denied they were responsible for the abduction of Mellomida.

Lt. Manuel Gatus, head of the civil-military operations of the 57th IB, said it was the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team of Manobo that collared Mellomida for failing to show documents for the motorcycle he was driving.

“They thought Mellomida was driving a stolen motorcycle when he could not present driver’s license or vehicle registration.   The BPAT members invited Mellomida for an investigation and later turned him over to the 57th IB for custody,” said Gatus.

Mellomida, he said, was still in their custody.

“While under our custody, he is being treated well. Again, I say, there was no abduction in Mellomida’s case,” he stressed. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)