Rebels seek suspension of military ops to release captives

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — As a "positive gesture" for the peace talks, the Left called on the Philippine government to suspend military and police operations in select areas for a week, to release four remaining prisoners of war (POWs).

In a statement, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA-NDF) said continuous operations of the armed forces in the provinces hamper efforts and place the lives and safety of the captives in "serious jeopardy."

The remaining POWs are Privates First Class Edwin Salan and Samuel Garay, Sgt. Solaiman Calucop, and PO2 Jerome Natividad.

Two POWs and paramilitary members were earlier released by the NPA to members of the Third Party Facilitators and Independent Humanitarian Mission (TPFIHM) in Davao Oriental.

The reds said they are coordinating with the TPFIHM for the release of the remaining four soldiers.

"For the safe and orderly release of the POWs, as well as to facilitate the safe withdrawal of the concerned NPA custodial forces, the NDFP strongly urges the (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) to order a 10-day Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) for the AFP and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO) for the PNP in and around the areas where the POWs will be released," the NDFP statement said.

The following areas are to be covered by the SOMO and the SOPO:

  • A. Bukidnon
  • Talakag (15 barrios)
  • Lantapan (14 barrios)
  • Baungon (10 barrios)
  • Malaybalay City (Tampi in Mt. Kitanglad, 10 barrios)
  • Pangantucan (10 barrios)
  • Kalilangan (5 barrios)
  • Valencia City (near Mt. Kalatungan, 10 barrios)
  • B. Surigao del Norte >>pls check again if ALL barrios in these areas<<
  • Surigao City
  • Alegria
  • Bacuag
  • Gigaquit
  • Claver
  • Placer
  • Mainit
  • C. Agusan del Norte
  • Kitcharao
  • D. Sultan Kudarat (not entire province, areas to follow)
  • E. Sarangani (not entire province, areas to follow)
  • F. South Cotabato (not entire province, areas to follow)

In an interview on Wednesday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Silvestre Bello said military commanders can issue the SOMO.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte appreciates the NDFP's decision to release the POWs, and will look into the possibility of releasing political prisoners.

"Matagal na rin nilang hinihingi kasi yung process of releasing has always been there. Hindi ito dahil kaliwaan, hindi," Bello said.

[Translation: They've long been asking for the process of releasing prisoners. This is not an exchange deal.]

He added, the government will release 23 prisoners who are sickly and elderly -- including at least three consultants covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

The JASIG, which was terminated by Duterte on March 8, gives immunity to NDFP and GRP consultants from being arrested or charged in courts.