MNLF disowns ‘training camp’ in Rizal
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said it did not operate the “training camp” that was recently overrun by government forces in San Mateo town in Rizal province.
In fact, the MNLF Central Committee had informed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) as early as Nov. 10 of the existence of the paramilitary hubs as “not recognized” by the group based in Mindanao, according to Rizal police.
The MNLF, in a letter signed by Nur-Ainee Lim of the MNLF Secretariat and addressed to Opapp Director for MNLF Concerns Jana Jill Gallardo, also asked those “persons not to proceed with their activities.”
Government troops arrested 35 people in military formation, with some even wearing military uniforms, on Dec. 26 at the San Mateo camp.
The content of the MNLF letter was disclosed by Col. Joseph Arguelles, Rizal police director, who pointed out that those people were “recruited” not to become Moro fighters but as members of private armies of land-grabbers.
Arguelles declined to show the Inquirer the entire MNLF document, saying what he had was just a photocopy, although he said the information had been “coordinated” as well to former Philippine National Police chief Camilo Cascolan, who retired on Nov. 10.
“The [recruits] were offered P300,000 by a certain Deogenes Rodriguez for supposed deployment to Mindanao [as MNLF fighters],” he said.
Land-grabbing and illegal settlement are what Arguelles described as “peculiar” issues in Rizal, a province on the outskirts of Metro Manila yet largely undeveloped and upland.
In November, Rizal policemen raided a similar camp in Taytay town and arrested 52 people.
“It’s a scam. Where would you find an army where a [new recruit] is given a rank of brigadier general?” Arguelles said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
He said the San Mateo camp could have been there “for a month already,” but the activities might still be more on “recruitment phase” at the time.
On Dec. 25, officials of Barangay Guinayang, San Mateo, reported to the police that guns were fired in the area. Policemen and soldiers later tracked down the camp in an upland area of the village.
On Dec. 26, government troops entered the makeshift camp and arrested among the group its supposed leader, identified as Lydia Panuelo.
A video footage of the operation circulated online on Monday where a woman was heard saying, “We’re not enemies,” just when authorities arrived.
The footage and photos also showed a supposed flag of the MNLF hoisted on a pole, a few huts and an organizational chart of the “headquarters” with its leaders given Army ranks.
Recovered from the camp were two .45-caliber pistols, bullets, handheld radio sets and a jungle knife, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement.
The police filed charges against those arrested for illegal possession of firearms, as well as for violating pandemic protocols on mass gathering.
Many of them are residents of Rodriguez, Rizal, and Taguig City in Metro Manila, while one is from Basilan province, Arguelles said.
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