NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands —- The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) urged the Philippine government to order a stand down of state forces in a ten-day Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) for the AFP and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO) for the PNP to expedite the release of six remaining Prisoners of War of the New People’s Army.
In a press conference on Wednesday noon (around 6pm Philippine time), NDFP peace panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said “(I)t would require… an institution of SOMO by the form of a stand down that will allow the period for the custodial forces to bring the prisoners of war in the specific areas… and to allow the custodial forces to withdraw safely also, to avoid any encounter.”
The SOMO and SOPO should be imposed in and around 15 towns and cities covering six provinces in Mindanao in areas where the POWs will be released.
According to the NDFP, the stand down order of the government forces should cover seven towns and cities in Bukidnon namely: Talakag, Lantapan, Baungon, Malaybalay, Pangantucan, Kalilangan, and Valencia City; seven towns in Surigao del Norte including Surigao City, Alegria, Bacuag, Gigaquit, Claver, Placer, Mainit; Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte; Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and South Cotabato.
Cafgu Active Auxiliary under the 72nd Infantry Battalion Rene Doller and Carl Mark Nucos were already released on March 24 in Mati City, Davao Oriental province.
The four remaining NPA POWs are Private First Class Edwin Salan,who was captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29; Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and PFC Samuel Garay who were captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2; and PO2 Jerome Natividad, who was captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9.
GRP peace panel member Hernani Braganza said “(A)s far as the AFP is concerned, eh okay naman po sila sa stand down na sinasabini Chairman Agcaoili.”
Bishop Felixberto Calang, lead convenor of the Sowing of the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao and who acted as third party facilitator for the Bukidnon POW said military officials in the province cannot declare the SOMO and SOPO on their own.
“They had to ask their higher ups on the matter and I think the government can respond to that immediately,” he said.
Braganza confirmed that he and Calang talked with military officials to facilitate the safe release the prisoners and the local government officials who will be present during the release.
“On the part of the government, we normally coordinate with the local peace and order councils to help us facilitate the releases of the captive soldiers and policemen,” he said.
Braganza said when they get back to the Philippines they will meet again with the local third party facilitators and the peace and order council officials to discuss the releases.
Duterte advised on dev’t
GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said that President Rodrigo Duterte was already advised by the panel on the recent developments.
“Of course he welcomes the gesture of the NDFP-CPP-NPA,” he said.
The releases of the prisoners was mentioned by Duterte as one of his four conditions for the peace talks with the communists.
It can be recalled that the CPP on February 19 has already called on the NPA to expedite the release of the prisoners.
On February 23, the NDFP Mindanao reiterated the order of the CPP for the release of the six prisoners.
However, on March 23, upon his arrival from his official visit to Thailand, Duterte announced that the NPA must release its prisoners, as one the conditions he set for the communists to comply.
“There’s a back-channeling going on, I must admit that. But there are certain conditions to me which are no longer negotiable. So either I have it before I embark on another journey of peace talks,” he said.
Duterte reiterated these conditions on April 2, the day when the schedule of the opening of the formal talks was set. (davaotoday.com)