From Benar News (May 12): Philippine Communist Rebel Leader Arrested, Military Says
Guerrillas belonging to the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, show off their arms in the outskirts of Bukidnon province in the southern Philippines, April 27, 2017 Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews
A ranking communist guerrilla leader wanted for a string of attacks in the southern Philippines has been arrested along with three others including a Christian bishop, authorities said Friday.
Rommel Salinas, identified as the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Mindanao, was arrested by joint police and military operatives Thursday evening near the city of Ozamiz, about 1,200 km (750 miles) of the capital Manila, officials said.
Also arrested were Bishop Carlo Morales of the local Christian church Iglesia Filipina Independiente, his wife and the driver of the van the group rode in, local police spokesman Superintendent Lemuel Gonda said.
Authorities confiscated a hand grenade, mobile phones, battery packs, a city map and almost $2,000 from the four suspects, he said.
Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, commander of the Philippine Army’s regional command, said Salinas was the top commander of the communists’ armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), and was believed to be in charge of sowing a range of terrorist activities in the region, from arson and extortion to killings and abductions.
Salinas was allegedly "involved in numerous high-profile crimes" and a local court had issued at least five warrants for his arrest.
Bautista said Salinas "was the most wanted NPA commander" in the western part of Mindanao, the country's southern third-largest island where both communist guerrillas and Muslim insurgents operate.
"Coordination work from the community, local government units, the national police and the army led to the capture of one of the highest-ranking CPP-NPA leader in western Mindanao," Bautista said.
The arrest of Bishop Morales ignited a furor in his church, during which the clergy ordered its members to immediately travel to the regional police office to demand his freedom.
“Those of you who can travel, go now to the Ozamiz police station,” said Bishop Antonio Ablon of the church's diocese in Pagadian City, also in the south.
The church also posted a photo of a handcuffed Bishop Morales in its social media page and said the four were not allowed to make any phone calls to seek legal assistance.
Ablon said Bishop Morales properly identified himself to the police, but was ignored. The church, however, did not explain why the bishop was with a top communist guerrilla wanted by the authorities.
"We find no reason that the good IFI Bishop of Ozamiz will be illegally arrested, handcuffed and illegally detained in jail. He had properly introduced himself as a bishop but was still accorded with maltreatment,” a church statement said.
Communist guerrillas patrol a remote town in Bukidnon province in the southern Philippines, April 27, 2017. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]
Clashes continue elsewhere
The arrests came a day after four NPA rebels were killed in separate clashes with troops also in the south Wednesday, some two weeks after the gunmen attacked three rubber manufacturing facilities in the southern city of Davao, killing a civilian.
Senior Superintendent Raul Supiter, provincial police commander in the southern city of Sultan Kudarat, said fighting erupted when NPA rebels attacked a Marine contingent patrolling the area.
A 30-minute gunbattle ensued, resulting in the death of two rebels. Two other guerrillas were also slain in a firefight in the city of Malaybalay, about 1,500 km (937 miles) south of Manila.
While local government officials have condemned the series of rebel atrocities, the Philippines has insisted that the next round of talks with the communists would still go ahead later this month in the Netherlands.
The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a guerrilla campaign in the countryside since the late 1960s. Its numbers are believed to number more than 3,200.
Some 40,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians have been slain over the course of the conflict, and peace talks have been on and off since the early 1990s.
In February, the negotiations collapsed after the guerrillas killed several government forces in a series of attacks.
But President Duterte subsequently agreed to return to the negotiating table subject to several conditions, including the release of several officers the NPA has captured and for the rebels to agree to a bilateral cease-fire.