DAVAO CITY – An intermediary group in the bid to have the police captives in the Caraga region released from their guerrilla captors warned that the “reluctance” of the government crisis committee to agree to temporary and limited ceasefire has endangered the process.
Aglipayan Bishop Rhee Timbang of the diocese of Surigao, a third party convener, in a statement said that the “reluctance of the government’s local crises committee to recommend the declaration of a local ceasefire or Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) had placed in quandary the negotiations for the release of four police officers captured by New People’s Army”.
“(This) placed the whole process in a quandary, and endangering both the security of the lives of the POWs [prisoners of war] and the initial agreements made to facilitate the release,” said Timbang.
The four police personnel, namely PO3 (Police Officer 3) Vic Calubag Concon, PO1 Rey O’niel Morales, PO1 Joen B. Zabala and PO1 Edito F. Roquino was captured by the NPA in a raid of the Alegria, Surigao del Sur Municipal Police Station last July 10.
The rebel group consequently declared the four as their POWs.
Ka Oris, the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front–Mindanao announced Friday the release the four policemen.
However, in a July 23 statement, Ka Oris said that their “position and that of the crisis committee of the local government on the issue of the length of time and the areas covered by the local ceasefire is irreconcilable”.
The NDF initially said “to ensure the safe release of the POWs, it is necessary to suspend all military operations from noon of July 22 until one week after the actual relsease”.
“We started with a proposal for a 10-day ceasefire, which we adjusted to eight days, and then readjusted to seven. Finally, we brought down our proposal to implement a six-day local ceasefire that shall start at 1700h of July 23, 2014 until 2359h midnight of July 29,” said Ka Oris.
Ka Oris said that the “NPA custodial force needs two to three days to transfer with no risk of enemy encounter the four POWs from its current location to the actual venue for the release. After the release, the same NPA unit will need another 3 days to relocate and reach a relatively safe area.”
They identified the ceasefire areas to cover the “mainland towns of Surigao del Norte, including Surigao City and the municipalities Kitcharao, Jabonga and Santiago of Agusan del Norte”.
Ka Oris said “the crisis committee doubts our sincere intent to release the POW is encouraged by the reckless prodding of military and police committee members to suspect that the NPA will only use the weeklong ceasefire to regroup and launch another attack similar to the Alegria PNP station incident”.
“With the refusal of the government to issue the needed ceasefire, the NDFP-Mindanao is now definitely cancelling the release of the four prisoners of war. They will be moved to a safer place where the process of investigation and possible trial may be conducted,” said Ka Oris.
Ka Oris said that the “issue has already been brought to the doorstep of Malacañang [office of the President] by the family and the Third Party facilitators though the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Assistance for the Peace Process).”
However Ka Oris said “Malacanang simply chose to ignore these.”
For his part, Major Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said that “if [the NPAs] wanted to release the policemen, they “can do it without condition.”
Visaya said military operations will “continue.”
In a Philippine News Agency (PNA) interview, Surigao del Norte Governor Sol Matugas said that they have agreed to a “72-hour SOMO” which “is considered a reasonable period by the local crisis management committee in order to release the four policemen who are believed to be kept by the rebel custodial force at this time.”
Matugas said that committee “has already stretched so much after considering all the aspects of security and safety of the POWs and their keepers.”
Matugas said they have extending their offered period from a 24-hour SOMO to three days.
However, in the same interview, Matugas said that she cannot decide on the demand of the NDF to include the municipalities of Jabonga, Kitcharao and Santiago as the said towns do not belong to her province.
“It is with grave disappointment that we announce the failure of the negotiations for the release of the aforementioned POWs due to the obdurate and untenable position of the local political leadership,” Timbang said.
Timbang said they “enjoin the people who held similar high regard for human life to support our call for the immediate declaration of Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) and ensure the safe return of the POWs to their grieving families.”
“Further, in our aspiration for a long and lasting peace we also strongly support the urgent call for the resumption of the peace talks between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines,” said Timbang. (davaotoday.com)