DAVAO CITY – The Philippine Army is holding a senior communist rebel leader following her capture in Butuan City in the southern region of Mindanao, officials said Saturday.

Captain Ezra Balagtey, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said soldiers and policemen arrested Nerita de Castro in her hideout at the Emenville Subdivision in the village called Ambago.

He said the 55-year old De Castro headed the New People's Army finance committee, which is in-charge of extortion activities. De Castro took over the post, which Leonida Guao, who was arrested in Butuan City in early 2018, left behind.

“She assumed as head of [the] finance committee and is in-charge of the extortion activities after Leonida Guao was arrested on February 2, 2018. After the arrest of Guao, the Komisyon Mindanao of the PA designated De Castro to be in charge of all the extortion activities in Mindanao,” Balagtey quoted Brigadier General Franco Gacal, as saying.

During her interrogation, de Castro, a native of Surigao City, turned out to be the NPA’s acting secretary of the Regional White Area Committee of North Eastern Mindanao.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA on de Castro’s capture, but Lieutenant Benjamin Madrigal, Jr, the regional military commander, praised security forces, saying, it was a big blow to the communist rebel group, which is currently negotiating with Manila for the resumption of stalled peace talks.

“The Command commends the inter-agency effort and the cooperation of the communities. Indeed, we can go after high ranking personalities of the NPA terrorist group and accomplish our tasks easily if we continue to put our acts together. This accomplishment will have an impact in our effort to bring peace in our communities."

“The arrest of de Castro is a big blow on the extortion activities of the NPA in Mindanao, and this will give relief to small business establishments who fell victim of their extortion activities. We expect further that de Castro will be revealing information especially those who are contributing to the NPA terrorist group,” Madrigal said.

President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped the peace talks after rebel negotiators insisted on the release of over 500 captured and arrested insurgents and their leaders languishing in jails across the country.

Rebel negotiators are also demanding the same before they can sign an interim peace deal with the Duterte government. Fidel Agcaoili, head of the communist peace panel, said both sides have agreed on an amnesty for all jailed rebels he called political prisoners.