NPA releases soldier held captive for 6 days in North Cotabato
DAVAO CITY – The communist New People’s Army (NPA) released on Tuesday afternoon, a soldier it held captive for six days.
The release was held a day after another NPA unit freed five policemen in the hinterland village here on Monday.
Freed in Tulunan town in North Cotabato was Private First Class Edgardo Hilaga of the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Mlang town.
Hilaga was captured by the NPA rebels in Sitio Balawan in Barangay Malasila in Makilala town on April 21.
Police earlier said Hilaga was taken by the rebels who set up a checkpoint in Barangay Malasila.
Hilaga was then riding a motorcycle when he was stopped at the NPA checkpoint.
The rebels allegedly displayed a “Stop Army 39th IB 1002nd Inf. Bde” signage when they set up the checkpoint.
Onboard a private helicopter, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who helped negotiate for the release of the soldier, flew to North Cotabato to fetch Hilaga.
Upon his return to the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command headquarters here to formally turn over Hilaga, Duterte told reporters he talked to the NPA, telling its members that they should not stir conflict during the election period.
“Let us not cause trouble because the voting public will be affected,” Duterte recalled telling the rebels.
He also said the guerrilla front that released Hilaga was different from the front that released five policemen the previous day.
To critics who called him a “puppet” of the NPA, Duterte said, “I’ve been a public official for 23 years, my loyalty belongs to the Republic of the Philippines.”
On Monday, Duterte, the front-running presidential candidate of PDP Laban, also received the five police officers who were held by another NPA unit in Paquibato District here.
Freed were Chief Insp. Leonardo Tarungoy, PO3 Rosenie Cabuenas, PO3 Rudolph Pacete, PO3 Abdul Azis Ali and PO2 Neil Arrelano. Duterte said he negotiated for the release of the policemen before he went to Manila for the third and final presidential debate in Pangasinan on Sunday.Duterte returned to Davao City on Monday for the formal turnover of the captives. It was supposed to be Duterte’s rest day after days of campaign rallies before Sunday’s presidential debates.
He claimed he also castigated the NPA for taking the policemen.
“Don’t harass the police because they are responsible for all the investigations, crime prevention and other law enforcement operations,” Duterte claimed as having told the NPA.
The policemen were on their way to investigate an earlier attack by the rebels on a militia detachment in Barangay Salapawan in Paguibato District here on April 16.
The attack was a rare one since Duterte was known to have good relationships with the communists and Moro armed groups. Duterte has been instrumental in the releases of many NPA captives in other Mindanao provinces.
Duterte also promised an all-expense paid vacation to Hong Kong to the freed policemen and their families after the May 9elections.
The National Democratic Front said the five policemen were freed due to humanitarian considerations.
Tarongoy’s wife Divine thanked the mayor for the release of her husband. She also expressed gratitude for the assistance provided by the religious group Exodus for Justice and Peace, which facilitated the early release of her husband and his colleagues. SFM
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