Five of the seven suspected NPA rebels have been profiled as holding important positions within the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). (Contributed photos)

The End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) provincial task force here said Monday that the arrest of Domingo Ritas, tagged by the military as a high ranking official of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) Bienvenido Vallever Command (BVC), is a major blow to the local insurgency in Palawan.

Provincial Task Force ELCAC said in a press conference that the arrest of their “political officers” (giyang pampulitika) Glendyl Malabanan, alias “Ka Meldy, Marjo, Michelle and Roxanne”, and Jenny Ann Bautista, alias “Ka Maron, Helen, and Nada”, will disrupt the recruitment activities of the NPA, particularly among the indigenous peoples (IPs) communities.

One of the suspects – Joelito Tanilon – who reportedly uses the aliases “Ka Tangkad, Jebar, Jabar, Blade, Joem and Barie”, is believed by authorities to be a vice squad leader and a “chief bomb-maker” who has been removed from the local rebel movement.

All four, and Ronces Paraguso, alias “Ka Rosas and Aiza”; Bener Rimbuwan, alias “Ka Joebert, Junard, and Gringo”; and Awing Lumpat, alias “Ka Niko”, reportedly belong to the Sub-Regional Military Area (SRMA) 4E Kilusang Larangang Guerilla (KLG) or the BVC.

Who are the rebel suspects?

Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Domingo, operations officer of the 3rd Marine Brigade (3MBde) said Ritas, alias “Ka Tino, Dino, Susan, Antonio Molino, and Moske, is a senior ranking NPA official in the province who belonged to the BVC’s Finance Squad.

“Base sa hawak natin na mga impormasyon na nakalap natin interagency — ibig sabihin galing sa iba-ibang units na members ng PLEDS — and sa revelation na rin ng mga recently sumukong dating kasama nila, ‘yong pinakamataas na lider dito na kasama nila is itong si Domingo Ritas. Siya ang deputy secretary ng Sub-Regional Military Area (SRMA) 4E — ibig sabihin buong probinsya ng Palawan na gumagalaw sa NPA. Siya ang deputy secretary and at the same time siya ang organizing and finance officer nila,” Domingo said.

READ RELATED NEWS: Suspected NPA members nabbed at City checkpoint

PLEDS is Peace, Law Enforcement, and Development Support which is tasked to determine non-military dimensions of communist insurgency that can be referred to other agencies.

He said Ritas is in charge of receiving collected revolutionary taxes, called Rebolusyunaryong Buwis sa Kaaway na Uri (RBKU).

Ritas has a warrant of arrest, according to P/Maj. Salvador Tabi of the Palawan Provincial Police Office (PPO), in connection with the killing of SPO1 Marvin Adier in San Vicente municipality in August 2018.

Adier was reported to have been shot by three unidentified assailants while he was about to leave RLM Trading and Construction Supply in Purok Sampaguita, Barangay Poblacion, onboard his Yamaha motorcycle.

“Si Domingo Ritas po ay may kasong murder dahil involved siya sa killing ng pulis na si Adier sa San Vicente last year sa tapat ng hardware store,” Tabi said.

On the other hand, Domingo said Malabanan and Bautista are the political officers who educate recruits.

He said Malabanan and Bautista are also the party wives of bombmaker Tanilon and another NPA leader, Vincent Lozada Libuna, alias “Ka Allan Libuna, Allan Lozada, and Peter”, respectively.

“Dalawa sa nahuling mga female ay mga political officers. Ibig sabihin sila ang mga giyang pampulitika — sila po ‘yong nagtuturo. Isa rin sa mga nahuli na lalaki ay na-identify ng mga kasama niya na ito ang taga-gawa nila ng improvised explosive device, which is consistent doon sa mga na-recover natin na explosive components na galing sa kanila,” Domingo said.

“Ang alam po sa grupo niya is alyas Jabar,” he added when asked who was the bombmaker.

Domingo said Lumpat and Rimbuwan are just new to the leftist movement and had just finished their training.

They are also known to the rebel returnees who have expressed willingness to prosecute the seven suspected members of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

A document obtained by Palawan News from various sources said six of them have been observed in Rizal while Paraguso, a “provincial white area staff”, has reportedly been seen in Brgy. Bono-Bono, Bataraza.

Brigadier General Charlton Sean Gaerlan, commander of the 3rd MBde, said they are still validating reports that Ritas’ group has other members who were able to escape the joint police and military checkpoint.

“Tungkol sa kasama pa nila, bina-validate pa namin kung talagang may mga kasama pa silang iba na nasa grupo. But open ang local government o national government kung su-surrender sila. Mas maganda na sumurender na sila kaysa masampahan pa sila ng kaso, lalo na kung ma-engkwentro sila ng tropa ay mas mahirap ‘yon kasi the government will not stop with the surrenderees, sa cases, pati na rin sa operations,” Gaerlan said.

On alert for possible retaliation

Gaerlan said the police and the military are ready against any act of retaliation by the NPA because of the arrest of the seven suspects.

He said reprisal acts are usually the “tactic” of the leftist movement since December and since town mayors declared them persona non grata.

“Usually, ‘yon naman ang tactics nila, lagi na silang nananakot kahit doon sa mga mayors na nag-file ng persona non grata, kahit doon sa mga surrenderees. So, we expect na they’ll try, susugod sila tulad ng previous months na ginagawa nila. Namimili lang sila ng mga soft targets — ‘yong mga kasamahan natin na nag-iisa or walang kamalay-malay, ‘yon ang mga tina-target nila,” Gaerlan said.

Asked about the maps and the sketches of the Anilawan detachment of the City Mobile Force Company (CMFC) of the Puerto Princesa City Police Office (PPCPO) in Brgy. Babuyan and an oil palm plantation in southern Palawan, Gaerlan said it could be part of the disruption activity that they were supposed to carry out.

“Simula pa noong December naging super alert na ang mga tropa dahil 50th anniversary ng CPP, then noong March anniversary naman ng NPA, and then recently, nag-full force na tayo sa ELCAC although noong October 1 pa lang nag-activate ‘yong provincial, ‘yong lahat naman ng clusters na-activate na. Full force na talaga ang ating task force,” he said.

Domingo said, meanwhile, that based on their previous intelligence gathering, the group just concluded training new recruits in Caruray, San Vicente, and were supposed to do a “test mission” to become full members.

“Pagkatapos ng training, usually nagco-conduct sila ng isang test mission o tactical offensive,” Domingo explained.

Meanwhile, Gaerlan denied the accusation of the rebel suspects that the pieces of evidence that were seized from their possession were “planted” so they could be pinned down for subversion.

“Lahat naman ng reasons or ways gagawin nila para sila makalusot. The fact is ‘yong explosives talaga nakuha sa kanila. Ever since naman, we’ve been operating here — since December when we stepped up our campaigns lahat ng nahuhuli natin at saka nag-su-surrender, wala naman nagco-complain na may itinanim, except this one,” he said.

Gaerlan said it is hard to plant explosives and blasting caps because all they have seized in the past have been accounted for and turned over to the proper custodian.

READ RELATED NEWS: NPA suspects undergo inquest

On Sunday, all suspects were brought to the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) for inquest proceedings.

They were charged on October 6 for violating Republic Act (RA) 10591 or illegal possession of firearms and RA 9516 or illegal possession of several explosive devices by assistant prosecutor Arabella Pe and prosecutor Nancy Guevarra with no bail recommended.

They have been committed to the Puerto Princesa City Jail.

Vice Governor Dennis Socrates, who represented Governor Jose Alvarez in the press conference, commended the PLEDS cluster for the successful joint law enforcement checkpoint operation.

“The arrest of these members of the communist-terrorist groups (CTGs) is a clear manifestation of how they have become unwelcome and rejected by the very communities they claim to support. This is also the result of declaring the CPP-NPA and their front organizations as undesirable,” he said.

Karapatan assails arrest of human rights workers

In an online post, the group Karapatan on Saturday assailed the arrest of the seven suspects whom it claimed to be human rights workers.

“The warrantless arrest of Glendhyl Malabanan and six other human rights workers in Palawan is a clear case of the government’s intensifying reprisals on human rights defenders and activists for their work in exposing the Duterte regime’s fascist attacks on the people,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan said Malabanan is the daughter of Bay, Laguna Bayan Muna coordinator Romeo Malabanan, one of the hundreds of victims of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo regime, who was shot in front of their home on December 23, 2003, merely a few days before Christmas.

It said, “it was the brutal murder of her father that drove her to become part of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog and engage in human rights work in the region since the Macapagal-Arroyo administration”.

Karapatan said the group came from Taytay and not San Vicente where it conducted a human rights investigation.

They were said to be accosted in Brgy. Maoyon where guns were pointed at them and where they were made to lay down on the road.

When they demanded for their arrest warrants, police and military forces allegedly “gave them a document without any of their names, before they were made to ride a vehicle”.

They were told that they will be brought to the Puerto Princesa City Police Station, but somewhere along the way, they were diverted and brought to another checkpoint. In this checkpoint, the police allegedly insisted that the firearms they “confiscated” belonged to Malabanan which she vehemently denied.

“We have seen this happen already in countless other cases, especially with the onslaught of the regime’s intensified counterinsurgency campaigns under Oplan Kapanatagan. The state is already desperate and exhausting its old and tired tactics of illegal, warrantless arrests, planting of evidence, and filing of trumped-up charges to vilify and discredit human rights work as ‘terrorism,’” Palabay said.