Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte – Hundreds of people on Saturday afternoon gathered at the small hinterland village here to witness the New People’s Army (NPA) release of Pfc Erwin Salan, whom they treated as a prisoner of war, after three months in captivity.
After a 4-day trek through the mountains of Surigao del Sur province, Pfc Salan, of the Philippine Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion, was handed over to the custody of representatives from the provincial government in Barangay Camam-onan.
“The release is a show of goodwill toward the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The prisoner should have been released last month but, unfortunately, due to the ongoing military operations it was postponed and moved to this day,” said Rey Calaste, also known as Ka Oto, spokesperson of the NPA Front Committee 16.
Ka Oto pointed out that the prisoner was treated humanely and properly while under the care of their custodial force.
“I’m very thankful I was not hurt or treated inhumanly while I was in their custody. I was taken care off as a prisoner of war and fed each day throughout the entire time I was held prisoner. I’m also very thankful to those who helped arranged for my release, especially to third party facilitators,” said Salan.
Salan added that escaping from captivity never crossed his mind, and he has no plan to file legal action as he is just happy to return to his family.
A teary reunion ensued between Pfc Salan and his father, mother and brother after they hugged the released prisoner following after his release.
Dr. Maria Isabel Makinano, provincial health officer of Surigao del Norte confirmed that the captive soldier was in good health after she examined him.
“Based on this examination, the patient is in good health both physically, and mentally since he is coherent. From blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, everything is within normal limits. He also does not have any laceration or bruises in his body,” said Makinano.
Bishop Rey Timbang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or the Philippine Independent Church, who led the third party facilitators, said his hopes the release of Salan is a good means toward peace.
“There is a chance for lasting peace in our land if we find ways to achieve this, if only we try to find ways to talk in terms of peace. We support the peace talks and President Rodrigo Duterte for his efforts to achieve peace. His term has not yet reached a year, but there have already been four rounds of peace talks and several agreements signed between the Government and the National Democratic Front. In fact this release of prisoner is part of that good will towards the talks, and, we hope political detainees will also be released soon,” said Timbang.
Salan was captured by elements of the NPA on January 29, 2017 while conducting Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) activity in Barangay Budlingin, Alegria, Surigao del Norte.
The NPA’s Front 16 is known for several abductions and capture of police and soldiers in their area of operation in Surigao del Norte.
On July 2016, three police officers and a civilian employee in the town of Malimono, Surigao del Norte were abducted while inside the cock fighting arena. They were released a month later in Surigao City.
On November 2014, NPA fighters seized two police officers from Alegria. They were released to then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte three months later, in the hinterlands of Gigaquit town in Surigao del Norte.
On July 10, 2014, four police officers were captured by the NPA during a raid in the Alegria police station, they were released after 19 days in captivity.