Raids Net Top Communist Fighter, Aquino Says Tide Turned Against Rebels
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The military today said it captured the country’s top rebel fighter and the No. 2 man in the Communist Party. President Corazon Aquino said the arrests marked the turning point in the battle against communism.
Maj. Gen. Ramon Montano told reporters that Romulo Kintanar, commander of the communist New People’s Army, was among seven rebel leaders captured in Tuesday’s raids. He said authorities did not immediately realize who Kintanar was because he gave a false name.
The government-run Philippine News Agency quoted another military official as saying the chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Benito Tiamzon, had escaped by the time raiders arrived at his hideout in suburban Quezon City.
But his No. 2 man, party Secretary General Rafael Baylosis, was among those arrested.
The agency said Tiamzon must have been tipped off by radio broadcasts on the arrest of his comrades in two raids at the Manila suburb of San Juan earlier Tuesday.
Military officials said they believe the rebel leaders had just held or were about to convene a central committee plenum. They said search operations were continuing and they expected more arrests in the coming days.
Kintanar had long been wanted by the military. Besides being the alleged head of the 24,000-strong New People’s Army, he is widely believed to be the organizer of communist urban assassination squads, called Sparrow Units because of the swiftness of their attacks.
The Sparrows first began operations in southern Davao City in the early 1980s before moving out to the Manila area and other urban centers.
Among those arrested with Kintanar were Baylosis and Benjamin de Vera, the Central Committee member in charge of operations on Mindanao island. The others were New People’s Army logistics officer Napoleon Manuel; his wife Inez; Kintanar’s wife Gloria; and Marco Palo, a member of the party’s liaison committee.
Mrs. Aquino immediately hailed the arrests as ″happy news for our country″ and commended the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Renato de Villa, and other officers and enlisted men.
″It clearly demonstrates that we have turned the tide and are winning the war against the communist insurgency,″ she said in a statement read by Press Secretary Teodoro Benigno. ″The fact that they were arrested on the NPA’s 19th anniversary (on Tuesday) attests to the admirable performance of our Armed Forces of the Philippines. I am elated and so is our citizenry.″
Montano announced the capture of Kintanar when he presented the guerrilla leader and other captives to journalists at a suburban military camp where they were being held under heavy guard. The only captive not present was Baylosis, who Montano said refused to be photographed.
Montano would not let reporters ask the captives any questions.
Military officials did not mention the name of Kintanar when they announced the arrests Tuesday, identifying one of those arrested as Mario Asuncion - apparently the alias Kintanar used.
Montano told reporters that Kintanar admitted his real identity when the officer confronted the rebel later. Officials said the captured rebels refused to talk to interrogators and would only give their names.
Kintanar, Baylosis and de Vera were the fourth, fifth and sixth Central Committee members to be captured since Mrs. Aquino came to power in February 1986 in a civilian-military uprising that ousted President Ferdinand Marcos.
Former New People’s Army chief Rodolfo Salas, whom Kintanar replaced, was arrested in 1986 while leaving a Manila hospital following a checkup. Last year, Juanito Rivera was captured in a raid on his mother’s house in Pampanga province north of the capital. And in February, Tomas Dominado was among 20 suspected rebels nabbed in a series of raids in the capital.
Tuesday’s arrests came as the military was on a heightened state of alert in Manila and several other regions in anticipation of attacks marking Tuesday’s 19th anniversary of the New People’s Army.
No major rebel attacks were reported Tuesday, but a Japanese businessman was shot and killed in a Manila suburb by an unidentified lone gunman who escaped, police said. The victim was identified as Akihiro Sato, 49, of Tsuchiura City in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture.
In Luzon’s Bulacan province, two suspected communist assassins shot dead a policeman Tuesday, while government troops captured a guerrilla in Bataan province, military reports said.
Reports of attacks in the countryside often take days to reach Manila.