Ex-Red warriors live life as ‘marked men’
Ellen Carandang lives a life in constant fear and there is no getting used to it.
Her anxiety level skyrocketed when communist guerrillas abducted and killed Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto, Agusan del Sur province, a rebel-turned-peace advocate, and his son Daryl last month. Their bodies were found in a village in Butuan City.
“I’m afraid. Most rebel returnees are also in fear when we heard the news of the killings,” Carandang, who once roamed the hills and forests of Southern Tagalog as a New People’s Army (NPA) fighter, told the Inquirer.
Carandang, along with 42 other purported health workers, was captured by policemen and Army soldiers in a controversial raid in Morong, Rizal province, on Feb. 6, 2010. They were accused of being NPA members undergoing training for bomb-making and were later dubbed “Morong 43” by media.
President Aquino has ordered the charges against them withdrawn. They were freed before Christmas that year, but Carandang and four others chose to remain with their military captors.
“Once an NPA leaves the movement then cooperate with the government and the military, he or she will be a target for liquidation regardless of the passage of time,” Carandang, 36, said in an interview arranged by Lt. Col. Randolf Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.
“That’s the scary reality that we’re facing every day,” she said.
The woman now stays in Capinpin with her five children and tends a sari-sari store as a livelihood project. Though she and her family feel secure inside the military camp, she lives the reality that she is markado (marked for liquidation) by her former comrades.
“I want to give my children quiet and peaceful lives. But the rest of my comrades went back and rejoined the movement,” said Carandang, who joined the NPA in 2009 as a member of its armed propaganda unit operating in Quezon province. Her former husband is still with the rebel movement.
The circumstance behind the murders of Otaza and son and the manner of the killings bore marks of an NPA assassination, Carandang said. “He left the movement and cooperated with the military against the NPA, he is really a target,” she said.
Otaza and his son were abducted by men wearing shirts with the letters “NBI” and pretending to be agents of the National Bureau of Investigation on a mission to arrest the mayor. The next day, they were found dead in a mountainous area. Their hog-tied bodies were riddled with bullets.
Otaza, a rebel returnee and later became mayor of Loreto, became an outspoken critic of the NPA. He helped convince fellow indigenous people who joined the rebels to surrender to the government.
She urged all rebel returnees to always observe safety measures in all their movements. “The NPA would just let time pass but they will eventually return and kill us,” she said.
Aside from those staying inside Camp Capinpin, she said other former rebels had chosen to remain with the military in different parts of Southern Tagalog.
Cabangbang, the veteran spokesperson of Mindanao-based military commands before his current assignment in Camp Capinpin, said the executions of Otaza and his son signified one message—that candidates for the May 2016 elections all over the country should be ready to pay the NPA the so-called “permit to campaign” (PTC) fees should they want to campaign unharmed in rebel-controlled areas.
He noted that the victims and the manner of killings had attracted media attention nationwide.
“That’s the intention of the NPA killers—to gain widest attention to bring the message across. That they are still a force to reckon with and capable to inflict violence against anyone, particularly politicians, who will not give in to their demands,” Cabangbang said in a phone interview.
Candidates should not hesitate to ask for government protection during their campaign sorties, he said.
Last month, five suspected rebels were killed in an encounter with government troops in Nasugbu, Batangas province. According to the military, they belonged to an NPA unit from Mindoro island which moved to Batangas to start preparations for collecting PTC fees.
Three days later, the guerrillas retaliated and killed two Army soldiers in an ambush in Calaca town, also in Batangas.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command (Solcom), said the military would deploy more soldiers to Batangas to stop the insurgents from regaining their base and to maintain peace and order.
Visaya said Solcom was also ready to provide security to candidates against harassment and extortion by NPA rebels. He advised them not to give in to rebel demands for PTC fees. Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
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