THE Philippine Army in the region lauded the newly organized Joint Task Force "Tandaya," who arrested Felomino Salazar Jr., the alleged “purge executioner” of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Leyte in the 1980s.

The 69-year-old Salazar, identified as an executive committee member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) front in Southern Leyte, was arrested in Barangay Tinago, Inopacan, Leyte on July 14, 2020.

“Salazar was then part of the dreaded CPP-NPA Intel Group whose main task during the implementation of the ‘Operation Anti-Venereal Disease’ was to identify, arrest, investigate and execute suspected government informants within their organization,” said 802nd Infantry Brigade Commander Colonel Zosimo Oliveros.

According to the army official, the arrest of Salazar was a “breakthrough” for the joint task force Tandaya since its creation on July 3, 2020.

In a statement, Oliveros said Salazar is facing 15 counts of murder based on a warrant of arrest issued by Regional Trial Court-Branch 32 of the National Capital Region for the alleged CPP-NPA purging activities.

“His former comrades who had already returned to the folds of the law tagged him as ‘taga-ihaw’ or executioner of the victims of the NPA purging directed by the CPP central committee purposely to cleanse its ranks of suspected government agents,” added Oliveros.

It is estimated that 300 residents in Leyte were summarily killed during the alleged purging activities.

On August 28, 2006, authorities also unearthed the skeletal remains of 67 individuals from shallow graves dubbed as “The Garden” in Barangay Subang Daku, Inopacan.

Tandaya is the old name of the entire Leyte Island to include the Biliran province before it was renamed by Spanish Explorer Roy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543.

The 802nd Infantry Brigade adopted the term Tandaya to “synchronize the effort of all government forces in sustaining peace and unhampered development in the provinces of Biliran, Leyte and Southern Leyte.”

Eastern Visayas remained a hotbed of insurgency with the continued presence of NPA, which has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.