DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Church leaders are calling for the government troops to declare a suspension of military operations for the safe release of two soldiers held captive by the New People’s Army in North Cotabato province.
Bishop Redeemer Yanez, of the Diocese of Koronadal of the Iglesia Filipina Independent said they were engaging the local government units as third party facilitators to call for the safe and immediate release of Sergeant Solaiman Calocop and Private First Class Samuel Garay of the 39th Infantry Battalion. The two were taken as prisoners by the NPAs Mt. Alip Sub-Regional Operations Command.
Yanez said last week they handed their letter to the Army. The group called on the NPAs to release the prisoners and for the government troops to suspend military and police operations. But Yanez told Davao Today in a telephone interview that there is no response yet on their letter.
He said they are hopeful that next week, the provincial government of North Cotabato will take up the issue during their session to support the call for the temporary suspension of military.
In a statement on March 1, Ka Efren Aksasato, spokesperson of the NPA in Far South Mindanao, said they are ready to release the prisoners, however, he said this will not happen until the military maintains their presence and operates in the provinces of Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental and South Cotabato.
Yanez said without a SOMO or SOPO, their facilitation for the release of the prisoners of war is “too risky.”
“Without it, the two parties might have an armed encounter and for us, as third party facilitators, it will be risky for our security. Even the politicians who want to help out would not agree of the risk without SOMO and SOPO,” he said.
The Sowing the Seeds for Peace met last Tuesday with Governor Emmylou Taliño Mendoza and Vice Governor Shirlyn Macasarte.
Bishop Rody Juan of the United Methodist Church said the government officials pledged to “work parallel with us.”
“Next week, hopefully, by God’s grace, the two prisoners of war will be released,” he said.
Juan also appealed to the NPA not to launch offensive attacks against government troops after four police officers were killed in an ambush in Bansalan town, Davao del Sur allegedly perpetrated by the NPA.
He said the attacks could affect the level of trust and confidence on both sides.
“Nakakaapekto ito ng malaki (on the peace talks), kasi parang nawawalan ng trust (This affects greatly on the peace talks, it could affect trust),” he said.
Duterte on March 3, said he was ready to resume the peace negotiations with the Communists. He said the NPA should release all its prisoners and stop collecting revolutionary tax. The two parties are currently holding backchannel talks in a bid to resume the peace negotiations as scheduled next month.
As its gesture of support for the resumption of talks, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines announced on February 17 that they will release the six prisoners of the NPA in Mindanao. (davaotoday.com)