DAVAO CITY – Family members appealed to New People’s Army guerrillas to release two Army men they captured on December 2 and held as prisoners-of-war (POW).

Ruby Samano, wife of Corporal Benjamin Enot Samano, and Angelina and Calvin Ricarte, parents of Private First Class Ricarte, appealed in a press conference Thursday to the NPA to free the soldiers and to government to make way for their safe and orderly release before Christmas.

“We hope the NPAs are keeping them safe and would return them to us before Christmas. I likewise ask the military to stop its operations so that they would not be put in danger,” said Samano.

Ka Aris Francisco of the the NPA’s Comval North Davao-South Agusan Subregional Command, has owned up to the arrest and holding them as captives.

He said that Guerrilla Front 33, under its command, “raided the compound of the Sumitomo Fruits Corp. (Sumifru) and captured Cpl. Benjamin Enot Samano (serial no. 833269), 37, and Pfc. Alvin Ricarte (serial no. 901744), 23, who are members of the 60th Infantry Battalion in New Corella, Davao del Norte, December 2, at 3:45 am to 4:00 am.”

Francisco said the NPA also confiscated from captured Army men and from company guards two M16 rifles, one shotgun, four rifle grenades, one icom radio and two vests of ammunitions.

He said “the NPA punished the Japanese-owned banana exporter Sumifru for its gross violations of rights of its workers. ”

“The NPA received complaints from the workers and their families that the company has imposed 16-work hour shifts without overtime pay in padlocked, jail-like building.  Arbitrary termination and suspension of workers without due cause are also rampant,” said Francisco.

Mrs. Samano said she only knew of what happened to her husband at 1:00 pm of the same day.

“The report said that the NPAs disguised themselves as workers of the plantation,” she said.

Mrs. Samano is a native of South Cotabao and said her husband has been in the service for 12 years already.

Mrs. Ricarte said her son has been only in the military service for three years.

“We appeal to them to release him, he only performed his duty and have not even left the area,” she said.

While Mrs. Ricarte said “we know that no one (POW) in this process have come out hurt or dead,” she also said that this “do not take away our worries and fears.”

Catholic priest, Fr. Raymond Suela, also appealed to the NPA to “let them go home especially now that it is Christmas”.

“To the military, we hope that they stop their operations for the safety of those who will release them (NPA), those who will facilitate for their release and the captured themselves. So the whole process will be faster, easier and orderly,” said Suela.

Reverend Jurie Jaime, convener of Exodus for Justice and Peace and who is acting as third party group facilitating the release of the two “calls on the NPA to hear and answer calls of the families especially as it is Christmas time.”

“We also call on the Armed Forces to respect protocols the NPA will set, should they decide to release the soldiers,” said Jaime.

Jaime said his group has acted third party facilitator for several releases of POWs and that “the whole process depends on the cooperation of the families and the help of local leaders.”

He said the “protocol” usually set by the NPA is a suspension of military and police operations in a fixed area and a fixed time for the release.

In a statement emailed last December 3 by First Lieutenant Vergel Lacamba, chief of the 10th Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office, the soldiers were “providing security assistance” to security guards “securing the airstrip of Sumifru Banana Plantation.”

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of our soldiers [but] we shall continue our military operations targeting the NPA group that abducted our soldiers without let up until they are rescued or released,” said Maj.Gen.Eduardo Año, commander of the 10th ID in the same statement.

Davao City Mayor and Davao Region Peace and Order Council Chairman Rodrigo Duterte have also called for the release of Samano and Ricarte.

“I said to the NPAs that I hope they release the two before Christmas,” said Duterte.

To date, the NPA holds two other Army soldiers as POWs in Bukidnon.

Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Regional Command, in an emailed statement last December 6 said the release of Private First Class Marnel Cinches and PFC. Jerrel Yorong is “postponed indefinitely.”

“As much as we want to release them in time for Christmas, the stubbornness of the AFP to declare a SOMO (suspension of military operation) delays it,” said Juanito. (davaotoday.com)

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