Army says pastor slain in Mindoro clash not NPA rebel
The Philippine Army on Thursday said a slain Christian pastor from Oriental Mindoro province was not a communist rebel but was only caught in the crossfire between soldiers and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mansalay town on Dec. 3.
The clarification came amid demands from the family and churchmates of Lablito Quiñonez (not Leovelito Quiñones as earlier reported) to have his name cleared.
The death of Quiñonez, a member of Guardians of the Truth Church Mission International Inc., raised doubts that his was a case of mistaken identity after the Army tagged him as an NPA rebel in its earlier reports.
Quiñonez, who left a wife and five children, was the lone fatality in the clash in Barangay Panaytayan, an adjacent community to his home village of Don Pedro. A 13-year-old boy was wounded when a stray bullet hit their house.
Pastor Salvador Magalay, Guardians founder, said Quiñonez was one of 28 active pastors of the congregation with churches located in the Mindoro provinces and in Antique province.
“What hurt us more was his being tagged a rebel. Even the church’s name was being dragged into these ugly things he was being accused of,” Magalay said.
Magalay said Lt. Col. Dennis Gutierrez, the battalion commander in the area, in a meeting last week, told him that the Army was “clearing” Quiñonez of accusations that he was a communist guerrilla.
Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., commander of the Army’s 203rd Infantry Brigade, said Quiñonez, at the very least, was “caught in the crossfire” but refused to call his death a result of a mistaken identity.
“We were surprised, too, when we learned that a pastor (was killed). But what needed explanation was why was he there?” Parlade said.
He said he was standing by the Army’s earlier report that Quiñonez picked up and arrived with a group of rebels in Barangay Panaytayan. In fact, he said, bullets loaded in magazines were recovered tucked in Quiñonez’s motorcycle.
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