SOMO sought for safe release of NPA captives

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 February) – The families of a soldier and a policeman held captive  by the New People’s Army (NPA) in an undisclosed place in Southern Mindanao appealed Monday for a suspension of military offensives (Somo) for the immediate and safe release of the captives.

Pfc Jezreel Maata Culango of the 60th Infantry Battalion and PO1 Ruel Pasion were captured by the rebels last month.

“Military operations in the countryside should be temporarily stopped so that the release of my husband will be safe,” Pasion’s wife Jennifer said in a press conference here.

Culango’s parents Luzviminda and Jonathan aired the same appeal in the same press conference.

“We are asking the NPA to release our son immediately,” Luzviminda said.

The NPA Comval-North-Davao-South Agusan Sub-regional Command had declared they would observe a Somo on February 19-22 for the captives’ safe release, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said in a Feb. 17 statement.

The Somo will cover Kapalong, San Isidro, Asuncion, New Corella all in Davao del Norte, and Laak in Compostela Valley, the NDFP said.

It asked the military to do the same as requisite for the immediate release of the captives.

“The 10th ID (Infantry Division)-AFP should reciprocate the Somo and cease from its fascist Oplan Bayanihan operations, or else further delay the release of the two prisoners of war,” NDFP-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Rubi del Mundo said.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the 10th ID said in a phone interview Monday the AFP could not declare Somo as it did not have any military operation in the areas identified by the NPA.

He said the military was doing peace and development programs and rehabilitation operations for typhoon Pablo victims.

He clarified that [their] peace and development teams (PDTs) are armed for the purpose of defending themselves.

The soldiers were doing immersion in the villages to know their problems and not to hunt down the rebels, he added.

Paniza said the military was doing repair work on houses damaged by typhoon Pablo under the Joint Task Force Tambayayong.

“If you noticed, in fact, in the past weeks, the NPA easily attacked our detachments because we don’t have patrol operations,” he said.

He said the AFP let its management committee handle the release of the two captives.

He said the negotiators for the release of the captives  had been assured they would not be caught in a possible crossfire unless the rebels attacked the PDTs or military detachments.

Bishop Delfin Callao of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, co-convener of Sowing the Seeds for Peace, said in the press conference they welcomed the NPA’s decision to release Culango and Pasion on humanitarian grounds in keeping with International Humanitarian Law.

He added that along with the Mindanao Movement for Just and Lasting Peace, Sowing the Seeds for Peace called on the AFP to stop military operations for the safe and orderly release of the two captives.

While on temporary ceasefire in the identified areas, “the NPA remains in active defensive posture against the enemy’s attack,” Del Mundo said.

“As an act of humanitarianism, the NDF deems it appropriate to archive the documentation pertaining to its preliminary investigation against the two POWs who were involved in the 60th IB and PNP’s counter-revolutionary and anti-people military operations in Comval and Agusan boundaries,” the rebel leader added.

The NDF spokesperson said their investigating body found the two “POWs” to have committed lesser offenses, and thus recommended for their release.

“This, however, does not prevent the revolutionary forces from initiating future arrest against the two POWs should they be found to commit crimes against the people and other human rights abuses,” Del Mundo said. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)