A top New People’s Army (NPA) leader in Palawan has surrendered to government authorities, 3rd Marine Brigade (3MBde) commander Brig. Gen. Jimmy Larida told Palawan News on Monday.
The rebel leader was identified as Jose Maria Masong, alias Ka Degret, a resident of Sitio Barongbong, Barangay Port Barton, San Vicente. He reportedly surrendered during a military intelligence operation in Barangay New Cuyo, Roxas.
Ranked by the military as the second-highest wanted rebel leader in the province, General Larida said Masong’s surrender left a certain Sonny Rogelio, also known as Ka Miggy, as the group’s last remaining leader in Palawan.
Larida said Masong had already been sending “fillers” indicating his intention to surrender even before the December 10, 2021, encounter in Barangay Tinitian in the same municipality, where Remil Padilla Rodriguez, alias “Azumi,” was killed, and female rebel fighter Justine Kate Raca surrendered.
Larida said that Masong was already “disillusioned” with the NPA’s local organization Bienvenido Vallever Command (BVC) due to disagreements within its internal leadership.
He said that even his known close friendship with Ka Miggy had deteriorated as a result of the BVC’s leadership disputes.
“Noong encounter noong December 10, napahiwalay siya sa grupo. Dalawa sila noong [member na] alyas Japhet na napahiwalay, pero ever since talaga may plano na si Degret na sumuko dahil sa hindi pagkakaunawaan sa organisasyon,” Larida claimed.
“So, yong opportunity na nagkahiwa-hiwalay sila noong encounter ay nag-take advantage na siya. Siya yong standing second-highest rebel leader ngayon ng grupo nila. Nag-start na lumabas yong balita na disgruntled na siya noong sumuko si Ka Rhian. Doon din namin nakuha ang balita na halos lahat sila gustong sumuko maliban kay Ka Miggy,” he added.
Masong has been linked to the killing of Gilbert Baaco, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) and Rescue 165 programs head, in Barangay Barong-Barong, Brooke’s Point in April 2017.
He has a standing warrant of arrest for murder signed by Judge Ramon Miranda with no bail recommended.
“Yong isang kaso na identified sa kanya yong kay Gibert Baaco,” he said.
His photo was among the most wanted rebel personalities that were put out by the Palawan Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF ELCAC) a few years ago.
Masong is currently under the custody of the 3MBde and will be evaluated for admission into the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP), which provides support to former rebels and others who voluntarily surrender.
“First phase ng enrollment sa ECLIP interview muna. Then pa fill-up siya ng enrollment form, then validation — yan yong first two weeks. I-a-apply naman namin sa kanya kung ano yong nakalagay doon sa Administrative Order No. 10 yong sa ECLIP. Sa ngayon, series of interviews pa lang kasi siyempre, alam niyo naman, pabago-bago yong sinasabi,” he said.
Larida said that the manhunt for Rogelio (also Ka Samuel and Troy) continues, but they anticipate his surrender “quite soon,” considering that he is traveling alone and is already stuck in Barangay Tinitian, the location in Roxas where he is frequently sighted.
“He has no other choice except to surrender, as we are all focused on getting him. Hangga’t hindi siya sumusuko, enemy of the state pa rin siya,” he said.
They suspect that Rogelio, believed to be from Batangas, is hiding in a house in the hinterlands of Tinitian. “Both overt and covert, tuloy-tuloy ang operation to find him”.
“Kaya mas maganda kung sumuko na siya. Siya na lang mag-isa, eh,” he said.
“May nagkakanlong sa kanya na taga bundok area. Sa sitwasyon ng Typhoon Odette na natalbusan yong kagubatan, wala siyang pagtataguan, nasa bahay siya malamang. Sa Tinitian pa rin siya — ipit na siya dyan,” he added.
He added that Rogelio’s co-leader, Ka Rise, whom they had previously pursued, is no longer in their area of operation and has been reported to have tuberculosis.
Larida pointed out that while the NPA ranks in Palawan had been decimated, they believe the rebel group will attempt to re-establish its presence locally.
“According kay Masong, hindi daw talaga iiwanan [ng NPA] yong Palawan. Baka may manggagaling din talaga sa ibang lugar na pupunta ng Palawan kaya kapag sumuko si Ka Miggy, matinding intel work talaga,” he said.
Larida emphasized that the assistance of all local government authorities is necessary to ensure the NPA is unable to recruit again and establish a new BVC.
He also said that the assistance of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will be required to monitor the coastlines and fishing boats that dock at all ports and other entrance points.
“Sila kasi ang nakakaalam ng mga rehistro ng bangka na pumapasok ng Palawan at lumalabas, kaya dapat mabantayan ang mga daungan at maaaring daungan,” he said. (with a report from Arphil Ballarta)