Raised eyebrows in POWs' release

EYEBROWS were raised when national officials suddenly took interest in the release of four prisoners-of-war on Tuesday, July 30.

No less than Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles and Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima received the four POWs right at the poblacion area of Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte past five in the afternoon.

It was the first time in several years that national officials were in attendance since these were normally left to the discretion of the local officials and most of the time through the intercession of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who is dubbed as the "savior of POWs".

Roxas earlier said they "will go to the NPA lair to ensure the safety of the POWs."

He, however, stayed at the poblacion area while the POWs were picked up from the NPA camp by Butuan Mayor Ferdinand Amante, Jr., Agusan del Norte Governor Angel Amante-Matba, and members of the media around 4 p.m.

In the more than ten releases of POWs in the Eastern Mindanao area, it was always Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who receives the POWs from the NPAs. The releases were always done in hinterlands with NPA rebels personally handing over the POWs to Duterte who then handed them to the police or the military.

No explanation was given by Roxas and PNP chief Purisima as to the sudden interest on the POWs' release.

Roxas also awarded the police personnel wounded in the Alegria attack.

Earlier in the day, Roxas met with the families of the four POWs.

PO3 Vic Calubag Concon and PO1s Rey O'niel Morales, Joen Zabala and Edito Roquino were on their way to respond to the besieged police station in Alegria, Surigao del Norte last July 10 when they were caught by a rebel blocking force.

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiator Luis Jalandoni, in a statement, said the release was "a goodwill gesture to promote the peace talks" between the government and the NDFP.

In a released statement, Deles welcomed the rebel statement saying that "In the face of the difficult challenges that have confronted this particular peace table, the government has remained firm in its commitment to pursue a peaceful resolution to this long drawn-out armed conflict.

"We reiterate our openness and serious intent to pursue peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF on the basis of a time-bound and doable agenda. We believe that our people deserve nothing less from the two parties than that they resume peace talks which can offer a clear roadmap to a just and doable political settlement."

Deles hopes that the goodwill fostered in the release of the POWs would "constitute a potential building block for the resumption of peace negotiations between the two parties. This joint undertaking has shown that we can work together and resolve issues peacefully, starting with small, positive steps like this one. We invite the rebels to come to the table to find common solutions to our problems in peaceful dialogue, as Filipinos first and foremost." BOT

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