AFP: Officer didn’t run, he escaped

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The military on Thursday defended an Army lieutenant who managed to evade capture by communist guerrillas who abducted five other soldiers in Davao City earlier this week, after the New People’s Army (NPA) taunted him for supposedly abandoning his men.

“There is a difference between escape and evasion and abandonment. To begin with, the soldiers were on a peace mission so the force on force ratio was different. When you say abandonment of troops, there was an actual combat engagement,” said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the military’s Public Affairs Office.

Zagala said that while 1st Lt. Neven Canitan and his men were on a civil military operation, the insurgents who had set up a checkpoint to abduct them were “fully armed on perceived combat operations.”

“What the lieutenant did was he evaded (the enemy) and every soldier has the right to evade, especially from capture,” he said.

Canitan was able to jump from his motorcycle and roll down a ravine, avoiding capture in Paquibato, Davao City.

In a statement issued Wednesday and signed by guerrilla leader Leoncio Pitao, alias Commander Parago, the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Battalion called Canitan a coward for “abandoning his men and evading the NPA checkpoint.”

The statement identified the five abducted soldiers from the 60th Infantry Battalion as Cpl. Emmanuel Quezon and Privates First Class Vernie Padilla, Marteniano Pasigas, Ronald Gura and Donato Estandian.

The NPA said the soldiers were taken to “punish the AFP units, particularly the Civil Military Operations 10th ID under Maj. Jake Obligado, for continuing to encroach, settle and conduct psychological warfare and intelligence operations in all the villages in Paquibato district.”

The NPA said that any effort by the military to rescue the soldiers would only put them in harm’s way.

But Zagala said it was the duty of the Armed Forces of the Philippines “to rescue our personnel.”

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