DAVAO journalists, who had covered the most prominent rebel leader in Southern Mindanao, the late Leoncio Pitao, known as Ka Parago, described him as a good man with strong principles.

"He is a smiling man. Buotan. Pasalamat ko nga naay mga tao nga sama niya na nagtan-aw sa kaayuhan sa mabagang loob sa katawhan na mga nakabsan sa kapalaran (He's a good man. I'm thankful to have someone like him who cares for the welfare of the people)," Mindanao Times photojournalist Rene Lumawag said.

Lumawag first met Parago in a media coverage in Barangay Baracatan in Toril District in 1990's.

"Tungod sa ang tinguha naa sa kasing-kasing ug sa utok na kung mahimo naay kausaban sa katilingban, ilang gihimo, kung palawman nato ilang gisakripisyo ilang kaugalingon ug kaaruhay sa kinabuhi para sa mga pobre (Their intention in their hearts and minds that if there is change in the society, they do it, and if we go deeper, they sacrifice themselves for the poor)," Lumawag said.

Edith Caduaya, a freelance journalist and former member of the League of the Filipino Students, described Parago as a father and a brother.

"Kadaghan nami nag-uban. First thing, there was pain sa akoa. I prayed for him the moment nabasa nako ang balita (We were together many times. It's painful and I prayed for him the moment I read the news). He has the heart of a father and a brother. He treats everyone fairly," Caduaya said.

"Whether bad man siya sa panan-aw sa uban, at some point, naa siya'y lesson ug maayong butang nga gibilin sa tawo in terms sa ilang pagpasabot ngano ingon ani ang Pilipinas (Others may see him as a bad person but he left a legacy in understanding the state of the country). I thanked him," she added.

He is a legend, Sun.Star Davao photojournalist King Rodriguez, in his Facebook account, said when he recalled the first time he met the New People's Army (NPA) Pulang Bagani Command (PBC) 1 leader.

"My only wish that day was to have a souvenir with the man called in their community as tatay and not Kumander Parago. I was afraid that we're in his territory but when he milled around and talked to the people -- he is different," he said.

"It blew my mind that this man was different. He is a friend to everyone and not a typical rebel leader you've thought he was. Great respect to you [Parago]," Rodriguez added.

Former Sun.Star Davao reporter and now ABS-CBN Davao reporter Arianne Caryl Casas also shared his first encounter with the NPA leader on 2013.

She said the media had also light moments with Parago. She also had a photo with him.

Casas first met the communist leader at the hinterlands of Paquibato for the release of soldiers who were declared as POWs (prisoners of war).

"Surprisingly, Ka Parago was also there to personally release the captives to Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte. We got the chance to interview him about his ideology," Casas said.

GMA Southern Mindanao senior desk officer John Paul Seniel, in a separate interview, said what he likes about Parago was his being a father to his children. Seniel got the chance to interview Parago in Barangay Lumiad in Paquibato last 2009.

"When we talked about the death of his daughter [Rebelyn], somehow, nag-break iyang voice, which we didn't expect because of his strong personality. Didto nako nakita na si Parago amahan diay sya ug tao pud sya (We then saw that he's a father and a real person)," Seniel said.

"Iyaha pud mi gi-grant ug first television interview. Na appreciate nako iyang gipakita na consideration bisan first time mi nag meet pero gi-grant niya among request na ma-interview siya (He granted us an interview even if it was our first time to meet)," Seniel added.

Ace Morandante, photojournalist for the Davao Today, said despite Parago's strong personality and principles, he sees the latter as being loved by the residents in his area.

"Mag-contradict imong madungog lang kesa makita nimo ug maila-ila nimo siya personally. Kung istoryahon nimo ang mga tao didto sa Paquibato, tatay ilang tawag. Nawala ako first impression sa iya. Maayo siyang tao (What you hear and what you see personally is different. When you talk to people in Paquibato, they call him father. My first impression was erased. He's a good man)," Morandante said.

The military confirmed Sunday night the death of the top NPA leader after the encounter between the armed forces and the rebels in Barangay Pañalum in Paquibato District, Davao City. Another rebel was also killed during the clash.

Parago is one of the oldest and most wanted NPA leaders in Mindanao who was captured in November 1999. But he jumped bail and rejoined his comrades in 2000.

In February 2000, he gained national prominence when he led a rebel group that captured Army General Victor Obillo and his aide and held them hostage for several weeks before releasing them to the International Red Cross.

He was also reported to have been killed several times only to resurface as head of the 1st Pulang Bagani Command, believed to be the main regional guerilla unit of the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Command.

The NPA's Southern Mindanao Region is reportedly the biggest and strongest command of the communist rebels with over 1,000 fully armed regulars spread across the Davao Provinces and parts of North Cotabato, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon.