ZAMBOANGA CITY: Communist rebels on Sunday said that they were holding two soldiers in North Cotabato province where security forces are battling the New People’s Army (NPA).
Isabel Santiago, a spokesman for the NPA’s Herminio Alfonso Command, said that the two soldiers, Corporal Delfin Largo Sarocam and Private First Class Jayson Burgos Valenzuela of the 57th Infantry Battalion, were captured on April 14 in Datu Inda village in the province’s President Roxas town.
“The NPA declares them [Sarocam and Valenzuela] as prisoners of war,” Santiago said.
According to her, the prisoners are members of the military’s special operations team involved in counterinsurgency missions in North Cotabato.
The Armed Forces, however, said that the two are part of a team of peace and development groups involved in community works.
“Operating under the cover of peace and development activities, Sarocam and Valenzuela conducted intelligence operations, particularly [the verification of] the presence of Red fighters in the village,” said Santiago.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ [AFP] special operations in North Cotabato are aimed [at] intimidating and harassing local residents, affecting their livelihood in the process,” she added.
“Under the anti-people ‘Bayanihan’ and similar to ‘Oplan Bantay Laya,’ local residents are forced to join the AFP-enforced Barangay Defense System amid rampant harassment and extrajudicial killings against civilians among other rights violations and crimes against humanity,” the rebel spokesman said.
Bayanihan is a term used by the military to refer to the government’s anti-insurgency campaign.
“The two soldiers are being investigated by [the NPA] for serious violations they may have committed against the people and the revolution in the course of implementing the regime’s vicious counterrevolutionary war,” Santiago said.
The communist insurgents have given assurance that the rights of the prisoners are being respected in accordance with war protocols and the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
The NPA also accused the police of arresting two innocent civilians, Toto Ancahas and Gerald Robles, in Davao del Norte province’s Panabo City last week on suspicion that they were NPA members.
The duo was allegedly tortured and then paraded to the public as belonging to the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.