Army hikes reward for rebel priestBy Carla P. Gomez, Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon, Inquirer Visayas
BACOLOD CITY—The military has increased to nearly P8 million the reward for the capture of one of the most elusive and highest ranking leaders of the communist underground movement, a priest-turned-rebel, in Negros Occidental.
Col. Oscar Lactao, head of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, said the reward for the capture of Fr. Frank Fernandez was increased from P5 million to P7.8 million, quoting a memo from the armed forces headquarters.
Lactao said the cash reward will come from funds being allotted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police for the capture of the country’s most wanted persons.
Fernandez, a Catholic priest, is secretary of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) regional committee based in Negros Occidental.
He is also known by his aliases Ibarra, Kanor, Suilo and Ago and is wanted for four counts of murder and attempted murder.
According to the military, Fernandez supervises the operations of at least four guerrilla fronts of the New People’s Army on Negros Island that has at least 200 fighters.
Rewards for the capture of dozens of other communist leaders have been put up by the government. They include Arlo Vargas.
In a statement, the CPP on Wednesday condemned the bounty, which total P466.8 million for 235 communist leaders.
“The reward system will only be used by military and police officials to pocket millions of pesos and commit grave violations of human rights,” the CPP said in its statement.
The rewards were announced in an order by the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Department of National Defense which was recently released by Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.
Leading the list of wanted rebel leaders are New People’s Army alleged top commander Benito Tiamzon, CPP-National Finance Commission head Wilma Tiamzon, National Democratic Front-Mindanao spokesperson Jorge Madlos and NPA Eastern Mindanao leader Leoncio Pitao.
The CPP said the number of wrongful arrests is expected to increase as a result of the reward offer, citing the case of a security guard who was arrested with his wife, son and daughter-in-law last Oct. 5 in Quezon City.
The security guard, Rolly Panesa, was tagged by the military as Benjamin Mendoza, a top communist leader in Southern Tagalog who carries a P5-million reward for his capture.
“We can anticipate more cases of false arrests,” said the CPP.
It said the reward offer seeks to “demonize and criminalize the revolutionary cause and works against achieving a political resolution to the armed conflict through peaceful negotiations.”