(L-R) Jesame Garay, wife of Private First Class Samuel Garay and Editha Salan, mother of Pfc. Edwin Salan appeals to both President Rodrigo Duterte and the New People’s Army at a press conference in Davao City on February 24, 2017 to help them bring back their loved ones. The two soldiers were among the six prisoners taken by the NPAs in Mindanao. The NPA has already announced they would release the prisoners. (Shino Bansil/Kilab Multimedia)


DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Families of ​soldiers who were taken ​ as prisoners  by the New People’s Army in Mindanao are pleading for ​P​resident ​Rodrigo Duterte’s help to  to help them get back their ​kin​.

​​A wife who is pregnant with their first born, and parents who are searching for their son for already a month appealed to Duterte to help ​​them be reunited with their loved ones.​​

Editha Salan, mother of Private First Class Erwin Salan​, ​ travelled to Davao City with Edgar, her husband and their youngest son to seek help from peace advocates in calling for his release​. Pfc, Salan​ ​​of the 30th Infantry Battalion​ ​was taken on January 29 in Lumondo Falls, Budlingin, Alegria, Surigao del Norte.

On Friday, February 24, Editha recounted ​in a press conference ​her family’s ordeal to seek ​​assistance for he​r​ eldest son’s release​.​ Editha said they travelled from Bukidnon province to Surigao del Sur to meet with United Church of Christ in the Philippines ​B​ishop Modesto Villasanta in Tandag, Surigao del Sur.

Villasanta is a convenor of the Exodus for Justice and Peace, an alliance that acts as a third party facilitator for the release of prisoners of war.

“We didn’t know where to go, we just got an address and travelled from Bukidnon to Surigao. When we arrived at the place we failed to catch a bus going Tandag because the last trip has already left. We slept at the bus terminal,” she said. It was raining that time and the three of them didn’t have any blanket.

When she saw Villasanta, she recounted telling him: “Kung pwede ra baklayon kung asa na padulong, akong baklayon para lang makauli akong anak (If only I can walk to where he is now, I will do it so he can come home with us already).”

Pfc Salan is their second child and is the breadwinner of the family.

Editha pleaded to President Rodrigo Duterte to help them in getting her son back so they could come home to their children who were left in Bukidnon. “Maluoy unta ang presidente nato, para makauli na mi kay nabiyaan na among pamilya didto (I hope our President will sympathize with us so we can come home already, our family is left I Bukidnon).”

“Mr. President, please help us,” Editha called.

“Ayaw na unta padugaya pa nga mapauli akong anak, para makauli na sad mi sa Bukidnon (I hope you will not waste any more time so my son will be released, so we can go home in Bukidnon),” she said.

First child

Twenty-two years old Jesame Garay is four-months pregnant with her first child.  In an interview with Davao Today Jesame said her husband, Pfc Samuel Garay is excited to see their firstborn.

She was only more than eight weeks pregnant when he left. Jesame has last seen her husband on his birthday last January 11. He left on January 12.

“He told me that he will report to the battalion headquarters of the 39th Infantry Battalion in Colombio, Sultan Kudarat and will accompany Sargeant Solaiman Calocop,” Jesame said.

Calocop was also taken as a “prisoner of war” along with Garay said before Pfc. Garay on February 2, by the New People’s Army in Crossing Bantangan on their way to their battalion headquarters in Makilala town, North Cotabato.

Jesame called on President Duterte to help her bring back her husband.

“Una​,​ sa ​P​resident​,​ na unta makauli na akong bana kay lisud kaayo akong kahimtang kay una buntis ko sa pirmero namo nga anak (First (I appeal) to the president, so that my husband can come home to us because my situation is difficult, I am pregnant with our first child),” she said.

Jesame said since her husband was taken, she cannot eat and sleep well and she fears for the safety of their baby.

She also appealed to the NPAs not to hurt her husband who is a good man. “Unta dili pud nila ipagkait na makita pa sa akong bana ang among anak puhon kay excited na pud kaayo to siya sa akong gibuntis (I hope they will not take away the opportunity for my husband to see our child, he was very excited since I got pregnant),” she told reporters.

“Buotan pud akong bana sukad pag-ipon namo. Wala gyud koy maingon (My husband is really kind since we lived together, I cannot say anything bad about him),” she said.

NPA’s assurance

On February 14, the NPA’s Valentin Palamine Regional Operations Command operating in Far South Mindanao released videos of Calocop and Garay who ​are in their custody.

Ka Dencio Madrigal, spokesperson of the NPA command assured the families that they are treating the soldiers well.

“The two are presently being investigated for their involvement in the crimes perpetrated by the 39th IB against the people and the revolutionary movement,” Madrigal said.

In their video messages the two soldiers appealed to the Army to cease all military operations as these only endanger their lives and safety. Madrigal said “combat troops of the 39th IB are still operating in Sultan Kudarat while their peace and development, outreach program teams continue to make peasant and Lumad communities as military garrisons.”

6 prisoners to be released soon

On February 17, National Democratic Front of the Philippines Mindanao spokesman, Joaquin Jacinto said they will soon release six prisoners soon including Salan and Garay.

The other prisoners were PO2 Jerome Anthony Natividad who was captured by the NPAs from the Mt. Kitanglad Sub-regional Command on February 9 in Talacag, Bukidnon and Cafgu Active Auxiliary members Carl Mark Nucos and Rene Doller who were captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14.

‘Thinking a thousand times’

Duterte told reporters on Tuesday, that he will “think a thousand times” about the peace negotiations.

“I will think about it.. I will think a thousand times, then consult the Cabinet, including the Left leaning,” Duterte said.

Duterte said there will be a time to discuss the problem together with the Cabinet officials. He also stressed that the government’s interest “must prevail.”

“It’s best that we discuss it, not now, about this problem and navigate again this thorny water in our country, but government interest must prevail, government interest must prevail,” he said.

Push for peace talks

Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and lead convenor of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace movement said ceasefire does not equate to peace.

“Peace is about jobs, it’s about justice, it’s about food, and it’s about freedom. Kanang upat wala na karon (Those four things are lacking now),” he said.

Calang said peace talks is about addressing the root cause of the armed conflict. Calang who was present during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy said he witnessed its success.

“Both Parties came up with several agreements that will ensure the gains for the Filipino,” he said.

“The parties need to explore possibilities to continue the talks and talk about significant reforms for the people,” he added.

The NDFP in Mindanao also urged the government to resume the formal talks despite the absence of any ceasefire agreement.

“After the success of the third round of the talks, the Duterte government cannot, at this point, ignore this resounding call to set into motion the possible implementation of genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization. If genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization are carried out to the satisfaction of Filipino peasants, workers and national minorities, millions will surely benefit and significantly improve their lives,” Joaquin said.

“Both the GRP and the NDFP owe it to the Filipino masses, at the very least, to continue to buckle down in significant dialogue and thresh out, and possibly agree on, means to eradicate the very roots of armed conflict in the country, which are feudal exploitation, US imperialist domination and bureaucrat-capitalism,” he added. (davaotoday.com)

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