BJMP negotiating release of colleagues held hostage by NPA

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 July) – The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has approached different personalities, including a local official in Quezon town and a priest from the Diocese of Malaybalay, to help negotiate the release of their four colleagues held by the New People’s Army, Jail Insp. Clint Russel Tangares said early Saturday evening.

But Tangares, BJMP 10 deputy regional director for administration, told MindaNews the negotiators opted to have their names withheld at the moment.

“We appeal to the NPA for the release of our colleagues. Anyway, they are not combatants,” Senior Insp. Guy Jason Reyes, Malaybalay city jail warden, said via telephone Friday.

Reyes added that the BJMP has sought the intervention of Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan, Bukidnon Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., and Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to establish contact with the NPA for the negotiation.

He said they are hoping their attempts to reach out to the rebels will pay off.

Reyes said the wives of the BJMP officials and guards have already spoken to the media to appeal for their husbands’ release.

New People’s Army rebels rescued one of their comrades in a daring raid in Bukidnon at dawn Thursday and also took as hostage four BJMP personnel, including a jail warden, who were taking the suspected NPA and other inmates to the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol).

Police said around 30 to 50 rebels posing as soldiers staged the daring raid 3:30 a.m. at a checkpoint in the municipality of Kitaotao along the Davao-Bukidnon highway.

The rescued inmate, Dennis Rodenas, was serving time at the Ozamiz City jail for illegal possession of explosive components.

The NPA, in its statement, said Rodenas was “unjustly sentenced” based on charges “fabricated by the Philippine Army” but did not mention what the charges are.

The NPA identified their captives as Jail Inspector Eric D. Llamasares (Ozamiz jail warden, of Philippine National Police Academy Class 2007), Jail Inspector Murphy B. Todyog (PNPA Class 2008), Special Jail Officer 2 Rogelio E. Begontes and Jail Officer 1 Rolando D. Bajuyo Jr.

Ongoing police pursuit operations, on the other hand, yielded no good news except for a reported sighting of the rebels in upland Kitaotao, P/Supt. Canilo A. Fuentes, deputy provincial police director for operations, said late Saturday afternoon.

“The armed group was seen with the four captives in the area. But it was quick, they just had lunch,” Fuentes said in a text message. He added that the rebels were apparently moving towards the Arakan area in the boundary of North Cotabato and Davao City.

In a separate interview, Tangares also hinted at a possible breach of standard operating procedure in transporting the inmates that made it easy for the NPA rebels to stage the daring rescue.

He said that as a practice, they do not use the Bukidnon-Davao route when transporting inmates to Dapecol in Panabo City in Davao del Norte.

“We usually take the Butuan-Davao route because the Bukidnon-Davao route is way too risky and the roads have so many potholes which makes the ride relatively slower. After we transport the inmates, that is when we take the Bukidnon route going back to Cagayan de Oro City,” he said.

Tangares added he was  surprised why Llamasarez, who he said was the team leader, opted to take the route despite the absence of an escort convoy.

“We will investigate why they opted to go that way…. But we could not start the investigation yet since he is still being held captive by the NPAs,” he said.

However, he opined that there is also the possibility that the prisoner transport was already tailed as far back as Ozamiz City.

“This is the very first time in the history of BJMP that our personnel were abducted. Usually, in the past, they (NPA) just spring out their comrade, disarm the jail officers and leave them alone,” he said.

The Army’s 4th Infantry Division, meanwhile, lamented why the BJMP did not coordinate with the military beforehand. “Had they coordinated with us properly, things could have turned out differently,” said Maj. Eugene Osias, 4ID spokesman.

He said they were surprised why the BJMP did not tell the Army about the prisoner transport when they knew it was a dangerous route.

But Osias said they have deployed government troops to help the police pursue the NPA rebels. (Walter I. Balane and Cong Corrales / MindaNews)