Members of the New People’s Army (NPA) have taken hostage at least five barangay officials in the municipality of Loreto in Agusan del Sur.

In the morning of October 24, the rebels attacked Brgy. Sabud and took hostage village chief Lito Andalique and village councilors Balaba Andalique, Marvin Bantuasan, Crisanto Piodos, Pepe Subla, and Maria Gina Bantuasan. The hostages are running for reelection on Monday’s Barangay elections.

The rebels said that the five were taken as “prisoners of war” and justified that they are “legitimate targets” because they are planted by the Army. The rebels demanded the deactivation of the 50 newly trained CAFGU militiamen and the pulling-out of the Philippine Army’s Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) teams deployed in the municipality.

The Municipal Crisis Management Committee (CMC) have authorized the conduct of pursuit against the rebels. Security operations by police and the military are being conducted to rescue the hostages and to secure the conduct of local elections on Monday.

Yesterday, military personnel from the 41st Division Reconnaissance Company engaged NPA rebels in Sitio Mampait, Barangay Sabud, still in the Municipality of Loreto. The military used artillery and air support during the skirmish that lasted four and a half hours. There are no reported casualties on the government side while rebel casualties remain unknown. The military also discovered an NPA camp in the area.

Meanwhile, several families were displaced from their homes in Barangay Sabud and are staying in Barangay Kauswagan. The local government is providing relief assistance to the affected families.

The hostage-taking incident can be considered as an election violence as the hostages taken by the NPA are candidates running for reelection. Such use of force to influence the conduct and outcome of elections is a violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

The NPA is also known for extorting money and firearms from election candidates with their “permit to campaign” and “permit to win”. The rebels are also reported to use force and intimidation to manipulate candidates and voters in far-flung areas. NPA activity is expected across the Caraga region and other NPA strongholds in Mindanao during barangay elections.