NPA commander Pitao tipster to get P5.6M bounty
TAGUM CITY, Davao—The person who tipped off the military regarding the whereabouts of New People’s Army (NPA) commander Leoncio Pitao will get the P5.6-million bounty offered by the government for the capture, dead or alive, of the communist leader, the military said on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, commander of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the tipster directed security forces to Pitao’s location in Davao’s Paquibato district, helping end a months-long operation targeting the most famous communist guerrilla leader in Southern Mindanao.
Año said the military and the Philippine National Police would process the reward and release it to the tipster.
Pitao, leader of the NPA’s 700-strong Pulang Bagani Command and also known as “Commander Parago,” was killed in a clash with Army Special Forces in Paquibato around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, according to Col. Harold Cabreros, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade.
“He was cornered,” Cabreros said. “His comrades left him behind and fled after the fighting.”
A woman believed to be Pitao’s medic was also killed in the clash. The military identified the woman on Monday as Kyle Limpag, 22, of Mawab, Compostella Valley province.
The military said security forces recovered two M-16 rifles, three rifle grenades and three backpacks from the site of the clash.
Supt. Antonio Rivera, spokesman for the Southern Mindanao police, said combined forces from the Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion and the 6th Scout Ranger Company took part in the operation that ended in the clash with Pitao’s group at Purok 9 in Barangay (village) Panalum.
According to Cabreros, the troops had been chasing Pitao’s group for at least a week before they caught up with the insurgents on Sunday.
Villagers fed up with the communist rebels’ presence helped the troops locate Pitao’s group, he said.
Last week, at least a dozen soldiers and rebels were killed or wounded in a series of clashes in Paquibato, Davao City’s remotest district, which shares a mountainous border with Panabo City in Davao del Norte province.
Pitao, 57, had several standing arrest warrants for various crimes ranging from murder to robbery, the military said.
In 1999, Pitao’s group abducted Brig. Gen. Victor Obillo, head of the Army’s 55th Engineering Brigade building roads in remote, impoverished areas influenced by the NPA.
Pitao was arrested later that same year, after Obillo and his aide, Capt. Eduardo Montealto, were freed unharmed.
But the guerrilla leader was released less than two years later as part of the government’s efforts to hold peace talks with the insurgents, which have so far been unsuccessful.
In 2009, Pitao’s 22-year-old daughter, Rebelyn, a schoolteacher who was not accused of being a guerrilla, was abducted by unknown gunmen and found later murdered in Davao. Her murder was never solved.
The NPA blamed security forces for the unsolved killing, and said it would hold the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responsible. The military rejected the allegation.
Charges were filed in court against a dozen soldiers, several of whom had been reportedly snatched and executed by suspected NPA partisans.
Año said the killing of Pitao was a big blow to the NPA in the Davao region.
“This is really a huge setback. This is going to be the fall of the NPA in the Davao region,” he said.
Año described Pitao’s group as the toughest in the Davao region, operating mostly in the mountainous areas of Davao City and Davao del Norte.
“He is the equivalent of Tirso Alcantara of Luzon—that is his image,” Año said, referring to the commander of the communist Regional Operational Command of the Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee who was arrested in 2011.
Simon Santiago, NPA Southern Mindanao political director, said the NPA saluted Pitao for dedicating his entire life to “the service of the people.”
He said Pitao, despite deteriorating health, preferred to fight instead of seeking medical treatment in the city.
“They (military) are wrong when they say Parago’s death will weaken the revolutionary movement,” Santiago said.
‘Warrior and friend’
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte commiserated with Pitao’s family on Monday following military confirmation of the communist leader’s death.
“I would like to commiserate with the family personally,” said Duterte, who helped secure Pitao’s family in 2009, during intense military surveillance following the abduction of Pitao’s daughter.
Duterte described Pitao as a “warrior and a friend.”
“I assure the communists, as long as they are not combatants, that they can come here and commiserate with the family,” Duterte said.
Duterte admitted he had “a connect”—means of communicating—with the insurgents, and said he believed Pitao’s fall was “just a matter of time.”
“You cannot be lucky all the time,” he said. “There’s always a time to die.”–With reports from Cynthia D. Balana and Julie M. Aurelio in Manila and AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.