Reds postpone release of 3 cops in Surigao Norte; cite continuing military drive

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/12 January) – The New People’s Army last week announced it has put on hold the planned release of three policemen in Surigao del Norte it has held captive since November last year with the rebel group accusing the military and local officials for refusing to agree to conditions for their freedom.

Communist rebels snatched PO1 Democrito Bondoc Polvorosa and PO1 Marichel Unclara Contemplo of the Alegria Police Station on Nov. 12, and PO1 Junrie Amper of Malimono Police Station on Nov. 16 last year.

National Democratic Front-Mindanao spokepersons Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said the military and the provincial crisis committee headed by Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol F. Matugas failed to reciprocate their own unilateral ceasefire.

Madlos alleged that military operations have continued despite the government’s declaration of suspension of both military and police operations from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19, the last day of Pope Francis’ visit in the country.

The government issued a unilateral declaration of ceasefire, from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19.

The NDF responded by declaring a truce covering the periods Dec. 24 to 26, Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, and Jan. 15 to 19.

The rebel group however announced it was observing a supplemental ceasefire for Surigao del Norte, from Jan. 6 to 19, for the safe release of the three policemen.

But the group accused the military of not reciprocating the move by continuing to launch operations.

The NDF responded by announcing last Wednesday it was postponing the release of the captives.

Madlos did not give a specific date but said the policemen might be freed after the Pope’s visit.

The Pope will be in the country from January 15-19.

Matugas had written the Army to request a lull in operations to facilitate the release, but the group Third Party Facilitators (3PF) called such move “too little, too late.”

Bishop Rhee Timbang, a member of 3PF said both the military and Matugas should take the blame for acting too late and for not showing enough sincerity to the agreed release plan.

Timbang, whose group was instrumental in the release of four kidnapped policemen late last year, noted that the abductions took place as early as November, and hardly a word was heard from the capitol.

Former Surigao del Norte provincial board member Victor Bernal, another 3PF member, pointed out that had the military suspended operations and had the governor’s crisis team acted decisively, the captives would have long been released.

“In short, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee and the military which is always pursuing the captors are the ones who don’t want the release [of the captives]. If possible, Governor [Sol] Matugas should ask the Philippine Army in Bad-as to stop the military operations,” Bernal said in Cebuano.

He urged Matugas to convene the committee to convince the military to stop their operations.

The governor did not reply when asked to comment.

On Friday, MindaNews received a compact disk from the NPA containing videos of the captives in an undisclosed location.

Polvorosa, Contemplo and Amper asked the military to withdraw from the hinterlands just for their safe release.

The captives also called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to help expedite their release.

Ka Maria Malaya, spokesperson of NDF-Northeastern Mindanao Region, earlier warned the ceasefire would only take effect once all police, military and paramilitary units cease all offensive actions, including the Community Organizing for Peace and Development .

The ceasefire, she said, covered four towns in Surigao del Norte – Claver, Bacuag, Alegria, and Gigaquit – and Kitcharao town in Agusan del Norte.

“This is a supplemental ceasefire to the 10-day ceasefire declared by the NDFP at the national level,” Malaya said.

She explained this would provide security and safety for the families of the “prisoners of war,” 3PF members and others who will attend the actual release.

In a separate letter, the NDF-North Eastern Mindanao also issued an order of release for the three captives.

“Heeding the request of the family and loved ones of the POWs, the NDFP-NEMR deemed it necessary not to proceed with the preliminary investigation and trial proper, and thus ordered their immediate release,” Malaya said.

“This local ceasefire declaration and the eventual release of the prisoners of war in Surigao del Norte form part of the confidence building measures of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines for the resumption of the peace talks,” she said.

She warned that if government forces “remain adamant in their position, and in effect jeopardize the security of the NPA custodial force and the POWs themselves, the NDF-NEMR shall have no other recourse but to cancel the release.”

Only the three policemen from Surigao del Norte have remained in the hands of the NPA, Madlos said.

Six other captives were released in December last year.

The policemen were supposed to be freed before Christmas Day last year but the rebels said continuing military operations in Surigao del Norte prevented their release. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)