Suspension of military operations in Bukidnon sought to facilitate soldiers’ release

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 12 Sept) – Government officials and the Philippine Independent Church in Northern Mindanao have sent an appeal to President Aquino and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to ask their help to persuade a local military commander to suspend military operations in Bukidnon province.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr., chair of the Senate’s committee on peace and order, said the suspension of military operations in Bukidnon will pave the way for the release of Pfc. Marnel Tagalugon Cinches and Pfc. Jerrel Hapay Yorong, who were captured by the New People’s Army last August 22.

“We have sent letters of appeal to President Aquino and the Defense secretary. I believed they are studying it right now,” Guingona spoke to reporters by phone last Sept. 12.

Alan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA Julito Tiro Command in North Central Mindanao, said they are willing to release Cinches and Yorong if government forces will implement a 10-day Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Offensive Police Operations (SOPO).

Juanito said the temporary ceasefire should cover San Fernando, Cabanglasan, Malaybalay City, Impasug-ong, Manolo Fortich and Malitbog in Bukidnon.

The NPA also wanted to extend the area where a temporary ceasefire will take effect to Claveria, Balingasag and Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental.

“The NPA will immediately declare its own suspension of offensive operations with the same duration and scope as soon as the GPH declares its SOMO and SOPO,” Juanito said in a statement emailed to news organizations here.

However, the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, which oversees military operations in Bukidnon and Northern Mindanao, underwent a change of command last Sept. 12.

Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao assumed command of the 4ID replacing Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who was assigned to head the Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command in Lucena City.

Lactao, who was the former AFP deputy operations chief, has given orders to continue operations to rescue Cinches and Yorong, according to Maj. Christian Uy, 4ID public information officer.

“Our orders are to continue operations to rescue the two soldiers. But of course this may change if new orders will come from the President or the General Headquarters,” Uy said.

The situation has became unbearable for the family and relatives of Cinches and Yorong whose last communications from the two soldiers was on August 23.

Gimingaw na kaayo mi nila (We miss them so much),” weeps Ana Curita Tare, the aunt of PFC Marnel Tagalugon Cinches.

Tare was accompanied by Pfc. Yorong’s sister, Genieve Yorong-Tagadiad, and Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church, to the office of Cagayan de Oro Press Club last Tuesday.

The two relatives appealed to the military to implement the ceasefire as demanded by the NPA so the two soldiers can be safely released.

A crisis negotiating team led by Bukidnon Gov. Jose Zubiri and Calang has already made contact with the NPA rebels since the first week of September.