The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairman of Barangay Paly Island, Taytay who is wanted by authorities for allegedly being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) has surrendered to clear his name.
Rico Soñer, who has been identified by the Palawan Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) as the leader of the comprehensive national democratic mass organization Anakbayan in Paly, gave himself up on November 16 in Barangay Minara, Roxas to the Joint Task Group North (JTF North) led by Marine Battalion Landing Team-3 (MBLT-3) commander Lt. Col. Ramil Holgado.
In an interview with Palawan News on Monday, Soñer said he surrendered to clear his name and to prove that he is not a member of the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Soñer said he did not know about Anakbayan’s supposed links with the NPA.
“Ang sa akin lang naman talaga ang sadya ko is ma-clear lang talaga ang pangalan ko. Hindi ako NPA, hindi ko alam na ‘yong nasalihan ko ay under pala ng NPA. Ang gusto ko lang talaga kaya ako sumuko ay ma-clear ang pangalan ko dahil hindi rin ako mapakali. Hindi ko naman alam kasi na NPA pala ang sinalihan ko na grupo ng mga kabataan,” Soñer said.
He said he was recruited into Anakbayan by Ronces Paragoso (Ka Aisa) and Absie Eligio (Ka Andoy) sometime in 2016 when Paly was dealing with the problem of “reef fish for food closed season” on Lapu-lapu (grouper).
Soñer said Paragoso convinced him to join a rally in Taytay against the Lapu-lapu open-closed season, telling him he would be effective in fighting for the cause because he is a youth leader whose family depends on fishing as a livelihood in Paly.
“Sinabi lang nila sa akin na dahil may isyu dito ng open-closed season [sa Lapu-lapu] which is malaking sagabal din sa amin kasi ‘yon lang din po talaga ang pinagkakakitaan namin ng mga magulang ko. Ako rin kasi mangingisda din ako. So, ‘yong nirason nila sa amin is tutulungan nila kami na i-organize namin ‘yong kabataan kasi ‘yong pinaka apektado daw doon sa isyu na ‘yon is kabataan, lalung-lalo na ‘yong nag-aaral,” he said.
“Nagka-problema kasi kami sa kabuhayan namin sa Taytay dahil doon sa open-closed season. Mangingisda din ako kaya noong time na ‘yon pumasok sila at ni-recruit ako ni Ka Aisa [kasama niya] si Andoy. Sinabihan nila ako na mas makakatulong ako sa kabuhayan namin kung ako ang mamumuno sa organisasyon ng kabataan dahil bilang ako ay SK chairman din sa aming barangay,” Soñer said.
Soñer, who claimed he was appointed by Paragoso and Eligio to be the leader of Anakbayan in Paly, was encouraged to join because he was also promised that he would win in the SK election.
He said he grabbed the opportunity because he was 18 at that time and wanted to fulfill his dream to become the SK chairman in their barangay to share his leadership skills to young people like him.
“Isa sa mga nag-encouraged sa akin na pumayag ako na i-appoint nila ay dahil sabi nila, kapag ma-appoint na daw ako, mag-organize kami ng kabataan which is magpapa-member kami ng marami doon sa amin para pagdating daw ng eleksyon, walang duda na ako ang mananalo kasi marami na kaming member,” he said.
Soñer said he was only able to confirm that the organization he joined is linked to the NPA when a group of five armed men passed by their home that is located along the road.
He said he was surprised to see them coming from the house of a certain Bibit Vargas.
Vargas was reportedly among the residents of Paly who attended a meeting that was organized by Paragoso.
“Doon kasi sila tumutuloy kapag pumupunta sila doon sa Barangay Paly,” Soñer said.
Soñer’s father Danilo, who was with him during the interview, said he was clueless about the organization that his son joined.
Danilo said he and his son’s 12 siblings are worried that something might happen to Soñer that was why they were relieved upon learning that he surrendered.
“Hindi namin alam na nasali na siya sa ganyan. Mabait naman kasi iyan, bunso sa kanilang magkakapatid ‘yan. Mabuti na lang at sumuko na rin pa rin maligtas siya at malinis niya ang pangalan niya na hindi siya NPA,” Danilo said.
Soñers eldest sister Norlita Ariola said she too was shocked to learn that he is wanted by authorities for joining the NPA.
She hopes it is never late for his brother to clear his name and live peacefully.
“Hindi masama ang kapatid ko. Mabait nga ‘yan. Silang dalawa na lang ng tatay ko ang magkasama sa Paly. Kaya kampante rin kami na sumuko na siya,” she said.
Brigadier General Charlton Sean Gaerlan, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade (3MBDe) and the Joint Task Force Peacock (JTF Peacock) that holds authority over the JTG North, said it was good that Soñer surrendered.
He said Soñer was identified as a member of the rebel group because he was in the propaganda video that was made by the NPA for its 48th founding anniversary celebration.
The video file was discovered in the laptop of one of the rebels that were recovered during a focused military operation in northern Palawan.
“Si Rico, kasama naman talaga siya sa video na inilabas ng NPA. Dito pa lang makikita mo ‘yong minsan ginagamit talaga ‘yong mga kabataan, kababaihan, at saka ‘yong ating mga mangingisda doon sa panloloko nila. Like in this case, ‘yong sa open-closed season nga which is hindi naman nila na-solve,” Gaerlan said.
Gaerlan said Soñer was really “targeted” by the rebel group so they can use him to deceive others who are being recruited to join the NPA.
He said Soñer’s surrender will be processed and his “category” in the wanted list will be determined.
“Target talaga siya. Isa siya sa mga target at hindi niya alam na ginagamit na nila siya. Sa mga promotional videos kasama talaga siya. Sa kanya ay i-pro-process siya, aalamin kung saan siyang category. Magkakaiba kasi ang category. Ituloy lang niya ang trabaho niya as SK chairman, pero this time naman dapat alam niya ‘yong mga organization na lumalaban sa gobyerno at saka kung anong organization talaga ang mas nakakatulong sa mga mamamayan,” he said.
Gaerlan also assured Soñer’s security, stating there are Marines in Paly who will make sure he will be safe. Paly is among the priority areas of the military in ending the local communist armed conflict in northern Palawan.
He said those on the wanted list should already surrender so they can be helped by the government.
“Doon sa mga nasa photo [montage] na na-publish, mas maganda mag-surrender na kayo katulad ni Rico para ma-clear niyo ‘yong pangalan niyo kung ano ‘yong participation niyo sa video. Na-recruit ba kayo o naloko ba kayo para makita talaga natin kung ano ang participation niyo,” he said.
On November 15, the task force publicized the identities of the suspected members of the insurgent group, including high ranking officials.
Among the wanted high ranking officials under the Bienvenido Vallever Command with a murder cases based on the data released by Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) are Bonifacio Magramo alias Abuan/Boy1/Nato/Soledad/, he is the Secretary of SRMA-4E; Noel Ecto alias Jake/Guiller/Jasper/Aike, he is believed to be the intelligence office of Kilusang Larangang Gerilya ( KLG)- North; Andrea Rosal alias Naya/Ram/Inlay as a secretary of KLG-North; Nene Batuan alias Elsa/Teresa/Karen/Loren believed to be as giyang pampulitika of KLG-North and Jomar Masong alias Degret/Len/Jerson as KLG-South Sparu.
Rosalinda Palidan alias Sandra/Mor/Aiko, a medical officer of KLG-North with a case of robbery with homicide.
The 22 others are as follows Selnon; Charity Diño; Sonny Rogelio alias Miggy, Samuel and Troy; Jayson/Wangyu; Jemar/Jmar; Shane, wife of Selnon; Alias Dino from Malihud, Bataraza; Alias Carding/Roman; Elisa Vargas alias nene, member of Gabriela and from Paly Island, Taytay; Efren Lorlito alias Gie, chairman of PAMALAKAYA in Paly Island, Taytay; Ronald (last location Burias Island); JR; Shin; Alias Tino/Regin; alias Noah; Elmar from Brooke’s Point; Richard; Ricky; Ken; Parra, and Ronald.