PhilHealth Exec Says Soldiers Harassed Him After NPA PoW Release

Two soldiers from the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army paid Philhealth vice-president for Central Luzon Tito Mendiola a visit and interrogated him about his role in the release of T/Sgt. Maron Oronan, prisoner-of-war of the New People’s Army (NPA) released on Jan. 10.


DOLORES, Pampanga – Philhealth vice president for Central Luzon Tito Mendiola cried foul over what he said was “a pure and simple harassment” by two soldiers who interrogated him in his office at the second floor of the regional Philhealth office in Barangay St. Jude, this town early morning of Jan. 12.

Mendiola, a former mayor of Floridablaca, Pampanga, said the two soldiers introduced themselves as intelligence officers and asked him about his role as a third party facilitator for the release of T/Sgt Maron Oronan.

Mendiola said the soldiers specifically asked him if Oronan was together with another New People’s Army (NPA) prisoner of war (PoW), Philippine Air Force (PAF) Maj. Neptune Eliquin who was captured by the guerrilla army in July 2005.

National Democratic Front – Central Luzon (NDF-CL) chairperson Felix Guillermo said in a statement that Eliquin remains a PoW and called for a suspension of military operations (SOMO) as a prerequisite to the release of the PAF officer.

Mendiola added that the soldiers wanted to get his mobile phone number but he refused.

The captive

A member of the Philippine Marines, Oronan was captured by NPA guerrillas last Nov. 23 while visiting his family in Guagua, same province. He is assigned in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

Reports said Oronan was mistaken for an intelligence officer by the guerrillas.

Oronan was officially released to Mendiola and Msgr. Paciano Aniceto, Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga midnight of Jan. 10 in an abandoned hut in an undisclosed place in Pampanga, according to the Philhealth executive.

No rescue

After signing his release papers, Oronan, together with Mendiola and Aniceto, was brought to the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary in San Fernando where he reunited with his family, Mendiola said.

“Maayos naman ang kalagayan ni Oronan nung pinalaya sya. May pasalubong pa siyang orchids sa asawa nya” (Oronan was in good condition when released. He even brought orchids for his wife), was how Mendiola described the orderly release of the former NPA captive. A basketful of orchids and a back pack was given as souvenir by the guerrillas to Oronan, Mendiola added.

In Oronan’s release papers, the NDF-CL said: “While in captivity, his rights were respected and his well-being looked after, in accordance with the Guide to Establishing a People’s Revolutionary Government and as stipulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”

The CARHRIHL is a human rights agreement forged between the government and the NDF in 1998.

After expressing gratitude to the third party facilitators for his release, Mendiola said, Oronan asked him and the bishop to join him in prayer.

The Philhealth officer belied reports that the Marine sergeant was rescued by the military early morning of Jan. 11 at the Ninoy Aquino Domestic Airport in Manila.

“Mamumukhang tanga naman ang mga nasa airport kung makakapasok ang mga NPA dun” (Airport officials would look stupid if the NPAs are able to get inside the airport), Mendiola said.

“Ayaw nilang sabihin na pinalaya kasi parang lumilitaw na hindi nila ginagawa ang trabaho nila pagka ganun. Yung iba din baka naghahanap ng promotion” (They don’t want to say that he was released because it would seem they were not doing their job. Others are probably looking for promotion), the Philhealth officer added.

Mendiola said he wanted to stay mum on the issue but he and the bishop were being made to appear as if they were lying.

“Kung magmumukang sinungaling kami ni Bishop hindi naman maganda yun kaya nagsalita na ako” (It is not good if the bishop and I would seem like lying so I decided to speak up).

Weeks before Oronan’s release, Mendiola said the Sangguniang Bayan ng Pampanga petitioned for a SOMO but the local government and the military did not heed the request.

Although wary of his safety, Mendiola said he was glad he was able to help in Oronan’s safe release despite the absence of SOMO declaration.

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