DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The National Democratic Front of the Philippines said it will recommend to the New People’s Army to release the three prisoners-of-war in Sultan Kudarat and Surigao del Sur as measure of goodwill in the peace negotiations.

“With respect to the reported three prisoners-of-war (POWs) — two in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat and another in Alegria, Surigao del Sur — the NDFP shall convey immediately to the concerned NPA commands, through the NPA National Operations Command, its strong recommendation that these POWs be released as soon as possible as a measure of goodwill in the peace negotiations,” Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP peace panel chairperson said in a statement Thursday night.

Agcaoili said the release may follow “once, upon due investigation, they are found not liable for any human rights violation or crime against the people and after the necessary protocols on the safety and security of the POWs, the local third party facilitators composed of religious leaders and local officials, and the NPA custodial forces are observed,”

The Army reported that in the morning of February 2, about 10 NPAs captured two soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Purok 7, Barangay Telafas, Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat.

Major Ezra Balagtey, public information officer of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the two soldiers were unarmed and onboard a motorcycle going towards Makilala, North Cotabato when they were flagged down by the NPAs.

“The incident prompted the LGU of Columbio, Sultan Kudarat to convene its own Crisis Management Committee. The whereabouts of the abducted soldiers are still not known as of press time,” Balagtey said.

In a statement, the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat called on the NDFP to release the two soldiers.

The provincial government also expressed its hope to achieve a peace through dialogue and understanding.

Another soldier in Alegria town Surigao del Norte was taken by the NPA on January 29.

Balagtey said Private First Class Erwin Salan of 30th Infantry Battalion in Lumondo Falls, Budlingin, Alegria “was unarmed and in the company of other civilians” when the incident happened.

Meanwhile, Balagtey said alleged NPA members also captured and killed three soldiers in Barangay Manalog, Malaybalay City on Wednesday.

“The three soldiers were on their way to Malaybalay City to withdraw their subsistence allowance when they were forcibly accosted by the NPAs. The three soldiers were also unarmed and in their civilian attire when they were taken,” Balagtey said.

He said the three were found dead at 5 pm on the same day in Sitio Kalib, Barangay Kibalabag.

As of press time, the NPA has not yet issued a statement on the incident.

Lieutenant General Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command called on the NPAs to “desist from committing further atrocities.”

“Let us condemn these atrocities which target our soldiers who are performing non-combat missions. These tactical offensives by the NPAs are inconsistent with their ceasefire declaration and could imperil ongoing peace negotiation,” he said.

Active defense mode

Agcaoili said the NPA has been on active defense mode since the January 21 incident in Makilala, North Cotabato, when one of its encampments was attacked by government troops killing one guerrilla fighter.

“Since then, however, the AFP, PNP and paramilitary forces have become more aggressive and bold in encroaching on communities and sowing fear among the people. These could have prompted the NPA to carry out active defensive operations to protect the people and their communities, as well as its forces,” Agcaoili said.

Despite the recent skirmishes, the NDFP reiterated its committment to move forward with the peace negotiations.

The government peace panel and the NDFP is scheduled to meet from February 21 to 25 in Utrecht, The Netherlands and on April 2 to 6 in Oslo, Norway. (davaotoday.com)

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