Army says it kept, didn’t abduct member of Agta tribe
LUCENA CITY—An Army official in Southern Tagalog on Friday admitted that a missing Agta native from Burdeos, Quezon, is in military custody but denied that he was abducted by government soldiers.
Col. Aurelio Baladad, commander of the Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade, said by phone that Rogemer “Demer” Morada voluntarily went with Army soldiers to ask for help as he wanted to avail himself of the Social Integration Program (SIP), which was designed for rebels who want to surrender.
Baladad said Morada has since returned to his family in Burdeos.
Last week, Catholic priest Fr. Pete Montallana, who is assigned to the Prelature of Infanta and a known advocate for the protection of Sierra Madre and mountain natives, reported that on Aug. 23, Morada was abducted my armed men who had identified themselves to the tribal community as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
In his report, Montallana said the tribe believed the armed men were not communist guerrillas but government soldiers.
Baladad said witnesses erred in saying the soldiers pretended to be rebels. “Our men were with a known rebel returnee (surrendered rebel) during that time. Apparently, the tribal community mistook the whole group as NPA. The soldiers have no intention to deceive the people,” Baladad said, quoting a report from Lt. Col. Ed Peralta, commander of the Army’s 76th Infantry Brigade operating in northern Quezon.
The military said Morada contacted the surrendered rebel and sought his help to avail himself of SIP.
“It just so happened that the rebel returnee was with Army soldiers when the two former comrades met,” Baladad said.
Baladad said Morada was working on his papers with the Department of Social Welfare and Development office in Quezon to avail himself of SIP.
Montallana laughed off the military explanation, saying it was “unbelievable.” The priest, however, admitted that Morada was indeed a former communist rebel.
Montallana said the men in the group that took Morada didn’t introduce themselves as soldiers. “They don’t have their name tags. It was plain abduction,” said the priest.
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