COTABATO CITY – Communist insurgents negotiating peace with Manila have claimed responsibility Monday for the disarming of a village chieftain and pro-government militias in a daring raid in the province of North Cotabato in the Philippines.
Rigoberto Sanchez, a spokesman for the New People’s Army, said rebels, disguised as government soldiers, seized 32 assorted weapons from village chieftain Michael Lingaro and his men in the village of Mahongkog in Magpet town during weekend raid.
“Without firing a single shot and posing as enemy troops, Red fighters of the Mt. Apo Sub-Regional Command-NPA in Southern Mindanao disarmed a barangay captain and his men, confiscating 32 firearms and other military hardware in Barangay Mahongkog,” he said.
Philippine media, quoting military commanders, reported that Lingaro and some of his men were seized by rebels, but Sanchez strongly denied this and accused the army of spreading fake news.
“There is absolutely no truth to the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) pathetic and desperate claims that the NPA unit abducted Barangay Captain Michael Lingaro and his men or used them as human shield following the successful disarming,” Sanchez said. “In fact, Lumad and peasant masses, rejoice the NPA’s punitive action against the paramilitary group that has long been used by the AFP in its counter-insurgency and anti-people campaign.”
Lingaro also denied the report and said neither he nor his men had been seized by the NPA.
Sanchez said rebel forces confiscated two M16 automatic rifles, one M4 Bushmaster assault rifle, two M14 rifles, two Garand rifles, four Carbine rifles, two M79 grenade launchers, four .45-caliber pistols, two 9mm pistols, one Uzi sub-machine gun, a dozen shotguns and 91 assorted magazines, including 12 vests and four military radio sets.
He said rebels also held a dialogue with villagers, explaining to them the purpose of the raid before withdrawing from the area where the military has stepped up recruitment of spies and launched anti-insurgency operations.
“It is evident that the fascist enemy is weaving tales in the media in order to smokescreen its direct recruitment of civilians for counter-insurgency and anti-people campaign. Lingaro and his group are being used by the army’s 39th Infantry Battalion to conduct counter-revolutionary terror on civilians in the hinterlands,” Sanchez said.
“It is in the interest of pursuing just and lasting and peace that the AFP is prevented from further arming and using civilians against their fellow Lumad and peasants in the countryside. The NPA, especially in Southern Mindanao, will continue to launch disarming operations as part of its duty of protecting the masses and defending its territories under the auspices of the People’s Democratic Government,” he added.
There was no immediate statement from the military on Sanchez’s accusations. Peace negotiators have recently signed an interim ceasefire deal during the resumption of talks in The Netherlands, but this has to be approved by the president and the NPA before it could take effect. (Mindanao Examiner)