Philippine rebels release town mayor, 4 bodyguards

MANILA, Philippines — Communist guerrillas have freed a Philippine town mayor and his four bodyguards after 12 days of jungle captivity in which the rebels interrogated him and he lived in constant fear of gunfire — and snakes, he said Tuesday.

Mayor Roberto Luna and his security guards — two army soldiers and two policemen — were turned over by about 30 heavily armed New People’s Army guerrillas to local officials late Monday in a mountain jungle in southern Davao Oriental province during a downpour, Luna said.

The rebels freed Luna, who has diabetes, on humanitarian grounds and after negotiating with Gov. Johnny Pimentel of the southern province of Surigao del Sur, where Luna is mayor of Lingig town, Pimentel said.

Luna wept with joy after he was freed and said the rebels treated their prisoners “like VIPs,” although he constantly feared being bitten by snakes or being hit by gunfire while in rebel custody.

“We had to deal with heavy rains, fog, mud and nights that were super-cold,” Luna told The Associated Press by telephone. “But the thing I feared most at night were snakes, so I wrapped my head in cloth and wore socks on a hammock.”

“I also told them I dread the sound of gunfire,” Luna said.

The rebels, who have been waging a rural-based Marxist rebellion since the 1960s, abducted Luna on May 5 in Compostela Valley province. The rebels interrogated him, accusing him of involvement in the killings of three men as well as land grabbing and corruption.

He said he argued his innocence to three rebels who interrogated him.

Luna will continue to be investigated by the guerrillas for the alleged crimes and could again face rebel attack if he “commits fascist acts and crimes against the people, the revolutionary movement,” regional rebel spokesman Roel Agustin II said in a statement.

While in rebel custody, the mayor acknowledged that he has a huge private army, which was linked to human rights abuses, and apologized for it, Agustin said. Pimentel said the mayor did not have such an army but made the admission, thinking that it would help win his freedom.

The captives were fed corned beef and a local rice-chocolate drink. When they found out he has diabetes, the rebels managed to get medicines for him, Luna said. The captives were not bound, but the rebels warned they would be shot if they tried to escape.

Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the military to end the communist insurgency, one of Asia’s longest, by the end of her term next month, but the rebels have dismissed the deadline as propaganda.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government brokered by Norway collapsed in 2004 after the rebels accused Arroyo’s administration of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European terrorist blacklists.

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