Keep your hands off Kumander Parago
By ROGER M. BALANZA
Military and police personnel should keep a distance away from rebel leader Leoncio Pitao aka Kumander Parago if they spot him in downtown enjoying the sights and sounds and the merriment of Fiesta Pasko.
He is a guest of Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who has warned he would be on the side of the leader of the 1st Pulang Bagani Command of the New Peoples Army (NPA), if he is arrested or harmed.
Kumander Parago, the most popular figure in the insurgency movement in Davao City for nearly 30 years, has several standing warrants of arrests—arson murder, kidnapping, robbery, rebellion and many others—and carries a P1 million prize on his head.
On Sunday, Vice Mayor Duterte invited Parago and his men to come down from their mountain lairs in farflung Paquibato district to be his guest during the Yuletide season.
Military and police officials reacted to the vice mayoral invite, saying the arrest warrants stand, ceasefire or no ceasefire.
Vice Mayor Duterte dished out the invitation as the government and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the communist movement, declared a December 16 – Jan 3 ceasefire, a month ahead of the resumption of peace talks between the two sides.
Earlier, Mayor Sara Duterte also said she was inviting Parago to join Dabawenyos in the celebration of Christmas marked here by the City Hall-initiated month-long Pasko Fiesta.
In his Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa television program on ABS/CBN Sunday, Vice Mayor Duterte slammed military and police threatening to arrest Parago if he is seen in the city.
He said that in the spirit of the resumption of peace talks between the government and the communists, “there should be no antagonistic or hostile action from both sides.”
He said his inviting Parago is a goodwill gesture that could help the peace talks.
“We are trying to reach for unreachable star, do not muddle things up,” Duterte added. Philippine communists have been battling the government for nearly 40 years. It last sat down on the peace table five years ago, after communist leaders suspected the Philippine government of urging the United States and the European Unionto declare the NDF, NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorists groups alongside the international terror group al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden.
Another well known figure in the Southern Mindanao communist movement said he is not listening to the vice mayor, whose friendship with communist leaders is well known to military and police. Vice Mayor Duterte, when he was mayor, always played key role in the release of troopers snatched by the rebels.
In the program, he told law enforcement authorities here not to arrest rebels who come down during the holiday truce, especially those responding to his “invitation to break bread with him.”
Duterte stressed that he will not allow the arrest of rebels leaders who accept his invitation.
“That would be foul. Look for some other time to do the arrest, not during the time of my invitation,” Duterte said.
He disclosed that so far, no one among the local rebels responded to his invitation to come down to the city to spend the holidays with their families.
Meanwhile, Duterte said he is certain to visit the rebels in the mountains.
“Ambot lang kung hatagan sad ko nila ug (I am not sure if they will also give me) safe-conduct pass,” he said.
Last week, the police warned that rebels who have arrest warrants might be arrested even with the holiday truce.
Superintendent Queruben Manalang Jr., spokesperson of the Philippine National Police Regional 11, said high-profile rebel leaders, like Leoncio Pitao, have pending arrest warrants even on local courts in the city.
Maj. Gen. Arturo Tabaquero, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), said rebels can come home to their families during the holidays as long as they no longer carry firearms and do not create atrocities.
“We are certain that we will comply with the suspension of military operations during the holidays,” Tabaquero said. (with PNA)