NPA: Ongoing military operations prevent POW release

MANILA, Philippines — Continuing offensive military and police operations in the Socskargen area are preventing the New People's Army from releasing two "prisoners of war", NPA spokesperson Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos said on Wednesday.
Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pfc Samuel Garay, whom the NPA considers prisoners of war,  were supposed to be released to third-party facilitators in a turnover ceremony on Tuesday, Madlos said. 
The event, however, was cancelled due to the military and police operations in the South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani Province and General Santos region. Madlos said the operations placed the lives of the POWs, their families and the third-party facilitators at risk.
The NPA custodial unit, in cooperation with third-party facilitators, planned to release the captured soldiers in time for Easter in line with the joint statement signed by the National Democratic Front and the Philippine government on April 6.
"The AFP and PNP, however, have stubbornly refused to heed the clamor for their units to stand down and suspend offensive operations to provide the opportunity for such a turnover," Madlos said.
He urged the Philippine government to order its military and police forces to suspend offensive operations in the Socskargen region for the safe release of the POWs.
He also said that the group is set to release three more captives in Bukdinon and the CARAGA region.

Positive development in peace talks

Sen. Loren Legarda, meanwhile, welcomed the positive development of the fourth round of peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDF.
In a statement on Wednesday, Legarda said that existing laws and programs of the government can already address many of the items in the NDF's social reform agenda.
She added that the Senate has several proposed measures that could support socio-economic reforms.
"I am optimistic that with the sincere efforts of both parties to pursue just and lasting peace, we will see the creation and eventual implementation of a peace agreement between the government and the NDF," Legarda said.
The fourth round of peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDF was held from April 2 to 6 in the Netherlands.
Legarda, chair of the Senate Finance committee, said that the 2017 national budget already includes programs and provisions to address the NDFP's social reform agenda.
These include the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Program, for which P3.9 billion is allotted for the Program Beneficiaries Development and the component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
Additionally, the budget for rural development includes P2 billion for irrigation fee subsidies and P1 billion under the Small Business Corporation subsidy for micro-enterprises.
Legarda also said that the 2017 General Appropriations Act ensures provisions to implement laws protecting natural resources and to ensure the integrity of ecosystems.
The senator also committed to work on  a 2018 national budget that will be able to support and advance the gains of the peace process.
"That is the least Congress can do," she added.



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