DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Two soldiers on Wednesday were reunited with their families after being detained as “prisoners of war” by the New People’s Army.
Sergeant Solaiman Calocop, 47, and Private First Class Samuel Garay, Jr., 28 of the 39th Infantry Battalion thanked the NPAs for treating them well.
“Sa NPA, salamat at binigyan niyo kami ng pangalawang pagkakataon na mabuhay. Hindi niyo kami sinaktan at pinauwi nang walang kagalos galos (To the NPAs, thank you for giving us a second chance at life. You did not hurt us and freed us without a single scratch),” Calocop said during his release somewhere in the hinterlands of Matanao, Davao del Sur.
Garay echoed Calocop, saying that during their three months of stay with the guerrillas, not even a single harsh word was spoken. Garay also thanked the NPA for giving him a chance to be with his families again.
“Wala gyud mi nila gipasagdan, sulod sa hapit mi mag tulo ka bulan sa ila, wala gyud mi katilaw ug pasakit sa ila. Biskan gamayng istorya nga pasakit sa amoa, wala gyud mi nila gihilabtan. Mao nang nagpasalamat ko nila na gihatagan pa mig higayon na makauli pa mi sa among pamilya.”
(They never neglected our almost three months stay with them, we were never hurt. Not even one harsh word was heard from them. That’s why I thank them for giving us the chance to go home to our families), Garay said.
Garay, an expectant father, said he was happy to see his wife, Jessa Mae, who is will give birth to their first born on July. Calocop meanwhile, has five children with his wife, Normalia.
Calocop, a former Moro National Liberation Front fighter who joined the army in 1997 during the integrations, said he was going for an early retirement.
Read related story: NPA prisoners’ parents, wife plead to Duterte: Help us bring them back
The present physician, Dr. Julieto Comia, said that both were physically well despite noting that Calocop initially had high blood pressure likely due to excitement, while Garay had abrasion on his right leg due to walking long distances.
Calocop and Garay were captured on February 2 in Columbio town, Sultan Kudarat.
In a statement read by NPA spokesperson Macario Dilaab, National Democratic Front Far Southern Mindanao Region Representative Efren Aksasato said the release order essentially “deferred judicial processes, including the possible sentences” but would continue if both were captured again.
Aksasato also said both were released after the two soldiers promised “to change their ways.”
“Boluntaryo silang sumumpa na hindi na mulng gagawa ng karagdagang krimen laban sa mamamayan at sa rebolusyonaryong pwersa (They voluntarily swore that they will no longer commit any crimes against the people and the revolutionary forces),” he said.
In an interview, Dilaab said that the release of the soldiers had to be delayed many times after the military refused to declare a suspension of military operations.
On Feb. 15, the NPA released audio messages of Garay and Calocop, pleading to their superiors to cease operations for their safe release.
Read related story: NPA’s prisoners plea to AFP: ‘Cease military operations’
Meanwhile, 10th Infantry Division Commander Major General Rafael Valencia, welcomed the NPA’s release of his subordinates. However, he maintained that the NPA had no reason to detain the soldiers in the first place, since Garay and Calocop were captured while the unilateral ceasefire of both the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF were still in place.
“So ang position namin dyan kung gusto nila iwanan na lang nila kahit saan ang dalawang sundalo, dahil unang una naka-civilian yan, unarmed yan ng kinuha nila, and sabi ko nga if they are responsible and sincere partner sa peace talks dapat noon pa nila pinakawalan yan (Our position is that if they want, just leave the two soldiers anywhere because in the first place, [Calocop and Garay] were in plain clothes and were unarmed when they were captured. Like I said, if they are responsible and sincere partner in the peace talks, they should have released them long ago),” Valencia said.
Two days after their capture, President Rodrigo Duterte suspended the peace talks and ordered the arrest of all NDF consultants released through bail. The peace negotiations resumed on March after two days of back channel meetings between the government and NDF peace panels in the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, two more “POWs” namely Police Officer 2 Jerome Anthony Natividad and Private First Class Edwin Salan are still in the custody of the NPA.(davaotoday.com)