Col. Romeo Baleros, provincial police director of Negros Occidental, reported that the arrest of eight suspects yielded six .45 caliber pistols with magazines containing 20 ammunition, a .38 caliber revolver with four ammunition, a KG9 automatic pistol with a magazine containing 25 live ammunition, three rifle grenades and 22 bottles of molotov bombs, including improvised dynamites.
Baleros said the arrested persons were identified as NPA members by their former comrades who provided information that led to their arrests.
Nabbed during the conduct of border control and checkpoint operation by troopers of the 1st Provincial Mobile Force Company of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office led by PLt. John Paul Tabujara, who responded to reports of armed men in Brgy. Jonob-Jonob, Escalante City, were Clint Mangayon, Kenneth Serondo, Joel Guillero, Leon Charito, Buenvinido Ducay, Aiza Gamao, Jonathan Alcosiva, and a 17-year-old, whose identity is being withheld by the police.
The eight arrested suspects were also reported to be members of the Teatro Obrero, KADAMAY and the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers who were set to join the commemoration of the Escalante massacre to be marked by progressive organizations in Escalante City, Negros Occidental.
PMaj. John Despi, officer-in-charge of the Escalante City Police Station, said Serondo, 19, one of the passengers of the intercepted vehicle, was noticed by Patrolman Ruvic Bering taking a .45 caliber pistol from his waistband.
Serondo was immediately arrested by the police troopers, and a search of other passengers and the vehicle they were riding, yielded more guns, explosives and molotov bombs, Despi said.
Following the recovery of those explosives, guns and molotov bombs, he also entertained the possibility of an attempt to sabotage the ongoing northern Negros peace summit being held in Escalante City.
Brig. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday that he was alarmed by the recovery of Molotov bombs, as the three-day Negros peace summit to be participated in by more than 2,000 former NPA supporters in Escalante City, Negros Occidental, started yesterday.
Citing the recovery of molotov bombs, explosives and guns, Arevalo also aired suspicions that the NPA may want to create a scenario to be blamed on the military or police.
Baleros said that, based on the confiscated firearms and explosives, it appears that the arrested NPA members were planning to create a scenario to disrupt the holding of a mass oath of allegiance by their former members and their supporters and accuse the state forces as responsible for the incident, and eventually use it as propaganda against the government.
Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat issued a joint statement strongly denouncing what they called the illegal arrest of nine activists, that included the driver of the vehicle identified as Toto Canillo.
Despi, officer-in-charge of the Escalante City Police Station, however, said that only eight had been arrested, and will be charged in court for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The Bayan Muna solons claimed that the activists were riding a jeep and were on their way back to San Carlos City, when they were blocked by men in civilian clothes, wearing bonnets and masks, who ordered them to disembark.
Their vehicle was searched, then firearms were planted, as well as bottles of Tanduay supposedly for making Molotov bombs, while the cellular phones of the victims were confiscated, the statement added.
“This is highly condemnable; Negros apparently is now under a de facto martial law as state forces are wantonly violating the rights of our people,” Zarate said.
Gaite said that the state forces involved should be investigated and charged. He described the incident as a “blatant act of repression by the state”.
Baleros vehemently debunked claims that the seized firearms, explosives and Molotov bombs were planted, stressing that it was always the defense mechanism of the enemies of the state.
“Our troops shows professionalism in enforcing the law,” he said, adding that the arrested suspects were treated well and underwent medical examination. All of them are free from harm, inhumane treatment, cruelty, torture or any barbaric acts from the arresting team.
He added that their rights are respected under the Miranda doctrine that clearly manifests that when the lives of arresting officers are not in danger, they can preserve the lives of persons arrested. But if there is an unlawful aggression, that justifies state forces to use force, including firearms, they can defend themselves from the enemy and criminals, he added.
Baleros also said that they received reports that rebels are planning to conduct atrocities during the Escalante activities, noting that thousands of their former members and supporters are surrendering.
Those intercepted by the police, based on the information from former rebels, were concealing firearms and explosives. This prompted them to implement the Negros Occidental “ Shield” campaign plan to protect innocent civilians for being victim of their atrocities, in line with the Negros Peace summit activities, he added.
Before the arrest of the eight alleged rebels, the 79th Infantry soldiers also figured in a running gunbattle with seven suspected NPA rebels on Sept. 17 in Brgy. Old Poblacion, Escalante City, that also resulted in the arrest of Jomar Agustin, alleged by the military to be a member of the NPA Special Partisan Unit, and Revely Tayab.
The arrest of the two yielded two 45 caliber pistols with eight ammunition.