The provincial task force to end the local communist insurgency has cleared three church clerics from involvement with the New People’s Army (NPA).
Cleared of links with the insurgent movement in the province were Fr. James Lahan of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa-Social Action Center (AVPP-SAC), Fr. Armando Limsa of the indigenous people’s organization Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan (Natripal), and Fr. Joseph Cacacha.
Western Command (WESCOM) commander Vice Adm. Rene Medina said their names were removed from the list of individuals with suspected links to the NPA after they were interviewed on December 11 by representatives of Peace, Law Enforcement and Development Support (PLEDS) and the Situational Awareness and Knowledge Management (SAKM) clusters of the Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC).
He said they were accompanied to the interview by Bishop Socrates Mesiona, the apostolic vicar of Puerto Princesa.
Their clearance was announced Thursday during the PTF-ELCAC Summit held at the Provincial Capitol with its chairman, Governor Jose Alvarez.
“Yes, they were cleared. Nakausap na sila kasama nila si Bishop (Socrates) Mesiona. Ang sa amin lang naman ay hindi namin listahan ‘yon. Sila ang makakapagsabi kung may link sila o wala. Kung ano naman ang sasabihin nila, maniniwala naman kami,” Medina said.
“Sabi nila willing naman silang makipag-cooperate sa task force ELCAC. Willing sila tumulong sa mga programa natin. Sabi ni Bishop Mesiona, nag-iingat naman sila sa mga aksyong makakaliwa at alam naman nila kung ano ang mga ‘yon. Ang sa amin lang talaga, dapat sa kanila manggagaling kasi hindi nga namin listahan ‘yon,” he added.
Capt. Clifford Pacatang of the SAKAM said the three clerics presented themselves to authorities to clear their names and denied supporting the NPA in the province.
He said they did not know how their names appeared on the recovered documents from the NPA.
“Nakipag-usap sila at sinabi na hindi nila alam kung saan nanggaling ‘yong mga documents na nakuha sa pito. Lumapit na sa PTF-ELCAC at sinabi nila na hindi sila sumusuporta sa makakaliwang grupo,” Macatang said.
“[The task force] cleared them from the list kasi napatunayan nila na wala silang kinalaman sa makakaliwang grupo,” he added.
On December 2, the names of Fr. Lahan, Fr. Limsa, and Fr. Cacacha appeared on the list of names of individuals that reportedly have links with the NPA.
In a statement, the AVPP-SAC said they only serve the poor and Fr. Lahan is the head of their programs. It said Fr. Limsa has been serving the interests of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Palawan as he himself is a Tagbanua, and Fr. Cacacha has never been connected with Aldaw.
“We are surprised and dismayed at the report that three of our priests are included in the list of groups known to be connected to the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front). We categorically deny this allegation. As a Church, we are only called to proclaim the truth, to serve the common interest of our people and to work for peace. May we be kept safe in the love of God, as we pursue our mission,” the AVPP said.