AGUSAN DEL SUR – On Tuesday, Presidential son Baste Duterte and former Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go received eight hostages freed by the communist rebel group, New People’s Army (NPA).
The eight released hostages were among the 12 members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and two soldiers the NPA abducted on December 2019 in Barangay New Tubigon, Sibagat, Agusan Del Sur.
“Yung mga hindi pa pinapalaya, ire-release sa amin. Kasama ko si Baste Duterte, pupunta kami doon,” said Go, in an ambush interview before proceeding to the turnover site at Barangay San Juan, Bayugan, Agusan Del Sur.
This past February 14, six of the abducted CAFGUs were released by the NPA through a third-party facilitator and were turned over to the Army’s 401st Brigade, Fourth Infantry Division.
Among the last batch of hostages freed were Private First Class Darlino Carino Jr. and Cpl. Eric Manangan of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces as well as CAFGUs Jimuel Acebedo, Abel Iligan, Rolando Quiao, James Iligan, Gabriel Iligan, and Janjan Iligan.
Baste and Go thereafter accompanied the released NPA captives for their formal turnover to the 402nd Brigade of the Philippine Army based in Bancasi, Butuan City, where the first batch of hostages released by the NPA less than a week ago were waiting for them.
Go revealed that he has been part of the ongoing effort since December of last year to secure the release the remaining NPA hostages. He said that a friend of Baste, who is a relative of one of the hostages, sought help to free the captives.
“Noong nakaraang taon, mayroong kaibigan si Baste na kamag-anak ng sundalong nanawagan sa akin para manghingi ng tulong. Matapos niyang manawagan sa akin, naghanap kaagad kami ng paraan para makatulong,” recalled Go, who took time off from his 2019 senatorial campaign for the turnover of the NPA hostages.
“(Ako naman), nagpunta ako dito para personal na magpasalamat sa inyong lahat na tumulong. Kakilala ko (kasi) eh,” Baste said for his part.
Acting in his private capacity, Go said that immediately after receiving the plea for assistance, he coordinated with Governor Adolph Edward Plaza and other local officials who may be able to help facilitate the release of the NPA captives.
Go reiterated that the release of the NPA hostages just proved that dialogue is a potent tool in resolving differences.
“Ito ang lagi kong sinasabi: mag-usap na lang tayo. Sino ba naman ang Pilipino na gustong magkaroon ng giyera at makipagpatayan sa kapwa Pilipino? Si Presidente Duterte at maging ako ay nasasaktan kapag may sundalo o pulis na namamatay, maging mga rebelde,” Go stressed.
The former SAP thanked the military officials for their cooperation and exercise of restraint that made the negotiations for the release of the hostages possible.
He lauded the NPA for not demanding anything in exchange for the release of their hostages. He added that the gesture of goodwill performed by the NPA group in the area may have made the renewal of peace talks between the government and the communist group a possibility once more.
“Goodwill lang nila itong nangyari ngayong araw. Alam mo naman, siguro gusto na nila muling makipag-usap kay Presidente (Rodrigo Duterte) at sa gobyerno. Bukas naman talaga si Presidente sa peace talks,” Go clarified.
“Isa na ako ngayong private citizen at kandidato, pero alam ko kung ano ang nasa puso ni Pangulong Duterte. Ayaw niyang magkaroon ng giyera sa pagitan ng kapwa Pilipino,” he added.
Baste Duterte also noted that armed violence between the Armed Forces and the NPA is pointless when peace talks can be a non-violent yet viable alternative.
“Para sa akin, walang saysay ang away; pwede namang mag-usap. Basically, ganoon lang kasimple: (kung) pwede naman tayong mag-usap, eh mag-usap na lang tayo kaysa mag-away tayo,” Baste said.
Go had been consistently appealing to the NPA to take advantage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer of peace, saying the group would not likely find another President who would be open to negotiate peace with them like the former Davao City Mayor.
According to Go, he and Baste will relay to President Duterte the concerns aired by the NPA.
“Ipaparating daw niya (Baste) sa kanyang tatay yung mga hinaing nila (NPA). At ako naman, kung ano ‘yung narinig ko doon ay ipaparating ko rin sa ating mahal na Pangulo. Hayaan na lang natin ang gobyerno at si Pangulong Duterte kung ano ang magiging desisyon nila, kung magkakaroon ng resumption ng talks,” Go said.
“Sayang ang buhay; sayang ang buhay ng tao (kung mauuwi lang ang lahat sa patayan),” Baste reiterated.
As part of his senatorial bid, Go has prepared a legislative agenda that includes localized peace talks, as he noted that the roots of the communist insurgency in the Philippines are oftentimes anchored on the unique situations in different areas of the country.
“Ako naman po ay pabor sa localized peace talks dahil alam ng gobernador, mayor, at mga opisyales kung ano ang kultura dito sa inyong lugar at kung ano ang makakabuti para sa mga rebelde at sa mga tao dito,” Go explained.
In July 2018, Go had also successfully facilitated the release of Deputy Chief of Police of President Roxas, North Cotabato, Inspector Menardo Cui Sr, who was earlier abducted by the NPA.
Apart from localized peace talks, Go’s legislative agenda includes programs for improved health services, agriculture, anti-illegal drugs and criminality, housing, education, fire protection and prevention, anti-corruption, long-term sports development, creation of a Department of OFW, barangay welfare, and improved benefits for senior citizens.