ZAMBOANGA CITY: A government soldier held captive by communist rebels in the southern Philippines was freed on Saturday to a local politician, who helped secure the freedom of the prisoner.
The soldier, Private First Class Rodello Canada Arigonan, who was captured on August 3 in Compostela Valley province, was released to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in Maco town after the soldier’s family appealed for help.
The details of the release of the soldier were not immediately known, but the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command was quick to say that the rebels freed the prisoner because of mounting public pressure.
The military said the rebels seized the off-duty Arigonan in the village of Langgam in Maco town.
Arigonan, who is also an electrician, was working on a neighbor’s house when he spotted a group of men digging holes on the road. The men turned out to be rebels, according to Col. Angelito de Leon, commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade.
He said the rebels also detonated landmines in Mabini town where troops pursued Arigonan’s captors.
De Leon also denied an New People’s Army (NPA) statement, which claimed that 11 soldiers were killed and wounded in a raid by rebels on an army headquarters in Mabini town.
“We have already alerted our units including the communities upon learning that the NPA plan to bury more landmines. This is why no one was hurt in that explosion contrary to the bloated statement of NPA spokesman Daniel Ibarra that we have 11 casualties,” he said.
Daniel Ibarra, a spokesman for the NPA forces in Compostela Valley Davao Gulf Sub-Regional Committee, said the soldier was captured during a rebel raid on the headquarters of the 71st Infantry Battalion in the village of Pangibiran in Mabini town. Ibarra said 11 army soldiers were killed and wounded in the attack.
Ibarra said the attack was in retaliation to the killings of Eddie Canon, who was a municipal coordinator of the Anakpawis party list group, and Ramil Lintas, a motorcycle taxi driver. Both were allegedly snatched and killed in May by members of the Military Intelligence Battalion under the 101st Infantry Brigade on suspicion they were rebels.
Rubi del Mundo, a spokesperson for the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Southern Mindanao, has confirmed the release of Arigonan, who was handed to members of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace and Duterte.
Del Mundo said Arigonan’s wife was prevented by the military from meeting with her husband at the NPA release site in the village of Panangan for a still unknown reason. She was, instead, confined to the army headquarters in town.
“The NDF cited humanitarian grounds as reasons for the release of Arigonan,” del Mundo said.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, has acknowledged Duterte’s efforts in securing the safe release of the soldier. He said Arigonan will undergo a routine debriefing before being reunited with his family.
“In our campaign to win the peace, local government units play a major role in achieving this. Our soldier will undergo the usual procedure after his release—medical check-up, debriefing,” he said.
Cruz has repeatedly accused the NPA of human rights violations and kidnappings of innocent civilians and soldiers in the restive region. He said they recorded at least 16 landmine attacks and 24 kidnapping incidents since early this year.
“These are serious human rights violations. You could see how the communists defy the CARHRIHL and how the National Democratic Front turned its back on these issues by keeping silent. The NDF should be compelled to explain to the public all these violations,” he said.
CARHRIHL refers to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law, which the communist group was a signatory.