NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands – The communists slammed the military’s refusal to suspend its military operations to pave way for the release of prisoners of war in Mindanao.
In a statement, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines said “(T)he outright rejection by the AFP” for a Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) “is one more proof the current AFP leadership is anti-peace.”
The Philippine government and the panels promised to hasten the release of three soldiers and a police officer who are held captives by the New People’s Army.
In the Joint Statement on the Successful Fourth Round of Formal Talks Between the GRP and NDFP in Noordwijk Aan Zee, The Netherlands, signed by all members of the GRP and NDFP peace panels on April 6, the parties “agreed to undertake measures necessary to effect the immediate, safe and expeditious release” of the prisoners of war.
It also said “the captives held in SOCSKSARGEN (will) be released before Easter and those in Bukidnon and CARAGA after Easter.”
However, the Army rejected the 10-day SOMO in parts of Mindanao for the release of the prisoners of war.
In a report by the Inquirer, Army spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla was quoted as saying: “We will not accede to the demands of the other side because if they are really sincere in doing what they need to do as a form of goodwill in releasing kidnap victims or hostages that they hold.”
The Army also said they will continue their operations against the NPAs until President Rodrigo Duterte gave them an order to stop the operations.
Major General Benjamin Madrigal Jr., chief of the 4th Infantry Division also said that the SOMO is the President’s prerogative. He also cited that the two militiamen who were captured by the NPAs in Davao Oriental were released on March 24, without a SOMO.
“They can simply leave them to local officials without any fanfare,” Madrigal said in a report by the Inquirer.
The NDFP said it informed its counterpart in the government about the speedy release of the four remaining prisoners as ordered by the Communist Party of the Philippines on February 19.
“In this connection, the NDFP asked for a SOMO to ensure the smooth and safe release, not only of the POWs but of the church people and local government officials facilitating the release. Asking for a SOMO has become part of an established method in releases of POWs by the NPA,” it said.
Stand down order
Third party facilitator Bishop Felixberto Calang, convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace for Mindanao said that the SOMO and SOPO would ensure the security of the group who facilitates the release and the prisoners.
He said the government panel has already committed to a stand down order, which he said is already a form of the suspension of military operations.
“GRP panel member Hernani Braganza and the security sector who are here in the peace negotiations already agreed to a need of a stand down order, they will take care of that,” he said.
Calang said the release of the prisoner in Sultan Kudarat is set between April 8 to April 14, between April 17 to April 23 in Bukidnon.
However, there is no schedule yet for the release of the prisoner in Surigao del Norte.
According to the NDFP, the stand down order of the government forces should cover seven towns and cities in Bukidnon namely: Talakag, Lantapan, Baungon, Malaybalay, Pangantucan, Kalilangan, and Valencia City; seven towns in Surigao del Norte including Surigao City, Alegria, Bacuag, Gigaquit, Claver, Placer, Mainit; Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte; Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and South Cotabato.
The four remaining NPA POWs are Private First Class Edwin Salan,who was captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29; Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and PFC Samuel Garay who were captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2; and PO2 Jerome Natividad, who was captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9. (davaotoday.com)