By MARTIN A. SADONGDONG
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Monday that the 35 persons arrested in San Mateo, Rizal for alleged illegal discharge of firearms and paramilitary training were not part of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Major Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said MNLF chairman Nur Misuari denied that the suspects nabbed by joint military and police forces are part of their group.
“Idineny po ni Ginoong Misuari na ito po ay kanilang miyembro sapagkat hindi po iyan tumutugon sa peace accord,” he said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano bared Monday that 35 persons who claimed to be MNLF fighters were arrested by joint military and police units in Barangay Guinayang, San Mateo, Rizal.
Clad in military uniforms, 26 men and nine women were caught while allegedly engaged in illegal discharge of firearms and paramilitary training, Ano said.
He added that the suspects also violated the government-imposed health protocols against the spread of COVID-19 after they were found not wearing face masks, face shields, and not practicing social distancing during their “mass gathering.”
Authorities seized from the suspects two caliber .45 pistols, assorted ammunition, Army uniforms, five handheld radios, and a jungle knife.
Accordingly, village officials sought the help of the government troops to check on individuals who set up camps in the secluded area of the barangay.
The Philippine government (GPH) has signed a Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF in 1996 to engage the rebel group in peaceful dialogues.
Several peace meetings were held which paved the way for the creation of the GPH-MNLF Coordinating Committee for the completion of the remaining deliverables of the 1996 agreement, including the transformation program for MNLF combatants.
Among the conditions in the peace accords include the dismantling of MNLF camps and bearing of firearms of MNLF fighters, Arevalo said.
Police have launched an independent investigation to determine the veracity of the claims of the arrested suspects.
The suspects were placed under police custody while charges for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition and violating the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act are being prepared for filing against them.