PNP arrests ex-communist leader Rodolfo Salas

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Former communist leader Rodolfo Salas

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — A former top leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines was arrested Tuesday for alleged murder, authorities said.

The Philippine National Police said Rodolfo “Commander Bilog” Salas was arrested in Angeles City, Pampanga on orders of Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32.

Salas, 72, was reportedly former chairman of the CPP and had also served as commander of its armed wing, the New People's Army,

He and 37 others including Jose Maria Sison -- CPP founding chairman who is in self-exile in the Netherlands -- were charged with 29 counts of murder for their purported involvement in a mass killing in Inopacan, Leyte in 1985.

In 2006, soldiers reportedly discovered a mass grave in Inopacan town. It was said to contain skeletal remains supposedly of communist rebels "purged" by their colleagues in 1985 on the suspicion they were informants of the military.

The PNP said Salas was also caught in possession of illegal firearms.

Confiscated from his home were gun accessories, one unit of .45 caliber pistol and 174 bullets, authorities said.

Salas is under police custody, PNP said, without disclosing where he is being held.

Police added he will face another complaint for violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

After the court released the arrest order in August last year, Sison in a Facebook post called the supposed mass killing a "fake" plot. He said authorities under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo collected bones from various cemeteries to frame the communist rebels for murder. He reiterated that he and the other suspects were in jail during the time of the supposed killings.

He accused President Rodrigo Duterte of using the case to justify a mass arrest, and to drive public attention away from the controversial release of almost 2,000 heinous crime convicts, whom Duterte ordered to surrender.