ZAMBOANGA CITY: The New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on Wednesday mocked an army officer who abandoned his soldiers to escape capture in Davao City.
Communist rebels captured five members of the 60th Infantry Battalion at a checkpoint in Paquibato district.
Rebel leader Leoncio Pitao, also known by his nom de guerre Ka Parago, has branded First Lieutenant Neven Canitan as a coward who abandoned the soldiers just to save himself.
Canitan was traveling with the soldiers on two motorcycle taxis when rebels seized the infantrymen on June 17. Canitan jumped off from his taxi upon seeing the NPA checkpoint and escaped, leaving behind his troops who were eventually captured.
Pitao said they also seized from the soldiers three .45 pistols and a hand grenade.
He said that, the soldiers are being held as prisoners of war (POW) and are being investigated by the NPA for their role in the military’s notorious anti-insurgency campaign in Mindanao that have killed innocent civilians suspected of aiding or supporting the rebel group.
The prisoners have been identified by the military as Corporal Emmanuel Quezon, Private First Class Ronald Gura, Bernie Padilla, Donato Estandia and Private Marteniano Pasiagas Jr.—all members of the 60th Infantry Battalion.
“The POWs are currently undergoing investigation for possible serious human rights violations, violations of International Humanitarian Law and crimes versus the people that they may have committed in the course of their participation in the counterrevolutionary Oplan Bantay Laya and as elements of the reactionary armed force,” Pitao said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
He said that, the capture of the army soldiers is part of the NPA counter-intelligence operations aimed at punishing military units, particularly the 10th Infantry Division, accused of human rights violations, murders of civilians and tribesmen, and harassment of peasants in Davao.
“Under the guise of [the military’s]peace and development [program], the Civil Military Operations completely militarized the farming and lumad [indigenous tribe]populace by regulating the movement of the civilian populace and abusing the masses,” he said.
Pitao said even prior to the capture of the soldiers, the army launched a widespread operations involving three battalions—the 84th, 69th and 60th—in Paquibato district to pave the way for large-scale mining activities, among others.
The military has strongly denied all Pitao’s allegations, saying the NPA was behind many human rights violations and other criminal activities such as murders and extortion activities in Davao.
Lt. Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion, said troops were sent to track down the rebels and their hostages.
“We still have no reports about the kidnapped soldiers, but our operations are continuing,” he told The Manila Times.
Pasaporte said the soldiers are part of a peace and development group in charge of a forthcoming feeding program for grade school students in Paquibato district.
He said the feeding program, which is to begin on July 1 in Paquibato, is in partnership with the global volunteer organization Kiwanis International and other stakeholders. It was not immediately how the arrest of the soldiers would affect the humanitarian program.
Pitao has warned that any attempt to rescue the soldiers would only endanger their lives. “Further intensification of the military operations in Davao City hinterlands under the cover of pursuit and rescue operations will only endanger the lives of the POWs,” he said.
The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been fighting for decades for the establishment of a separate state in the country.
Government peace talks with the rebels have been on and off with both accusing each other reneging on many agreements, including demands by the communist group for Manila to release all political prisoners languishing in jails across the country.