Davao City Vice-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who flew in at the release site onboard his private chopper received Pfc. Jezreel Culango and Senior Police Officer 1 Ruel Pasion at the release site during the turnover program. He later brought the two with him onboard his chopper and took them to their respective regional headquarters in Camp Panacan and Camp Catitipan, in Davao City.
By MARILOU AGUIRRE-TUBURAN
LAAK, Compostela Valley, Philippines – The New People’s Army (NPA) has released the military and the police they held as Prisoners of War (POW), Thursday afternoon, in a far flung village in Laak town, Compostela Valley province.
Davao City Vice-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who flew in at the release site onboard his private chopper received Pfc. Jezreel Culango and Senior Police Officer 1 Ruel Pasion at the turnover program.
Duterte later brought the two with him onboard his chopper and took them to their respective regional headquarters in Camp Panacan (military) and Camp Catitipan (police), in Davao City.
“Dako gyud akong kalipay sa mga tawo nga nagtabang sa among release (I am exceedingly happy and grateful to those who helped work for our release),” Pasion told reporters at the turnover program.
He said they were treated “as brothers” by the communist guerrillas during the 35 days that they stayed with them in the hinterlands. The NPAs, he added, also provided them regular medical check-ups.
Culango, for his part said, they were treated well by their captors. “Wala gyud mi gipasakitan sa mga NPA. Ila ming gitratar og maayo isip mga POW (They never hurt us. They treated us well as POWs).” He added that they never had problems with their needs as the NPAs shared with them whatever they had, even if there was only camote for a meal.
Culango, a military personnel of the 60th Infantry Battalion and Pasion, a police officer of the San Isidro Police Station were arrested by the NPA at a checkpoint the rebels mounted in Mangloy Village, Laak town on January 17.
The NPA’s ComVal North Davao South Agusan Sub-Regional Command facilitated the release, and according to its statement, the two were freed on three considerations: That there was no sufficient evidence to warrant their arrest for serious crimes; in compliance of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws (CAHRIHL) and, as an act of political power and exercise of authority of the People’s Democratic Government.”
The NDF Southern Mindanao (NDF-SMR) in an earlier statement said the investigating body it formed found Culango and Pasion “to have committed lesser offenses, and thus were recommended for release,” adding that it does not, however, prevent future arrests “should they be found to commit crimes against the people and other human rights abuses.”
Also, the NDF cited that that they deemed the documentation pertaining to its preliminary investigation against the two “for involvement in the 60th IB and PNP’s counterrevolutionary and anti-people military operations in Compostela Valley and Agusan boundaries, archived.”
The NPA has earlier declared a unilateral declaration of four-day suspension of military offensives from February 19 until 22, in the towns of Kapalong, San Isidro, Asuncion, New Corella, all in Davao del Norte and Laak in Compostela Valley, to pave the way for a safe and orderly release of the two.
Meanwhile, Davao City Vice Mayor Duterte thanked the NPAs “for obeying the rules of war,” citing the Geneva Conventions.
The two POWs were still uncertain of their fate after the release. Pasion had hoped his higher ups will still give him the chance to continue his service in the PNP, while Culango, on the other hand, said he is leaving it up to his company commander.
Church leaders, and peace advocates, led by the Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP), an advocacy movement for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, were also present at the release site as third party facilitators.
Bishop Denny Dapitan of the Iglesia Filipina Indepiendente’s (IFI) Agusan-Surigao jurisdiction, representing the EJP said they were there in behalf also of the families, who were not present to reunite with their loved ones at the release site.
Dapitan called for the resumption of the peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in light of this recent POW-taking of the NPA.
Dapitan said the resumption is crucial to “address the roots of the long-running civil war” in the country.
Pasion, for his part, said he is supporting the resumption of the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP, as he believes “it will be beneficial to all.”
He also pointed out that the agenda on the peace talks must also have a focus on uplifting the economic well-being of Filipinos.
“Nagasuporta ko sa peace negotiation aron ang dagan sa nasud mahapsay (I support the peace negotiations so that our country will be better off),” Culango said.
Talks regarding the Comprehensive on Social and Economic Reforms, the second substantive agenda in the peace talks, were stalled in February 2011, over the non-compliance of the GPH on its promise to release political prisoners covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, among other outstanding issues. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com