An aerial photo of the pickup owned by mining firm TVI. Suspected NPA members burned the vehicle after disarming and briefly holding the soldiers riding it. (Photo by the Army 102nd Brigade)

An Army major who was reported missing after suspected New People’s Army (NPA) members waylaid his team in Diplahan, Zamboanga Sibugay, was able to escape his captors and return to his unit Saturday night, the military said.

Major Ramon Torres “safely returned to friendly lines after 12 hours of evading his captors,” Lt. Col. Billie Tagapulot, spokesman of the 102nd Infantry Brigade based in Ipil, said in a statement.

Torres was among the four soldiers and two employees of TVI Resource Development Philippines (TVIRD) who were intercepted and disarmed by about 70 rebels at Sitio Mahayahay, Brgy. Guinoman, around 7:30 a.m.

It was earlier reported by the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command that the six “intelligence operatives,” comprised two officers, two enlisted personnel, a retired Army member, and a militiaman.

As the six were being interrogated and stripped of their weapons, Torres escaped and was chased. The five captives were later freed.

Torres overheard on the rebels’ handheld radios that they will not release him, so he jumped off the cliff and hid among the bushes until nightfall, Tagapulot said, citing accounts of the released soldiers.

Lieutenant Col. Randolph Cabangbang, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said the soldiers and their companions were enroute to Brgy. Balabag in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, for an “intelligence mission.”

TVIRD is the local operating arm of Canadian mining firm TVI Pacific for a copper mine in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte. It plans to develop a gold and silver mine in Brgy. Balabag, where it already has a mine pit and dam.

“The NPA members wanted to send a message to TVI to stop its mining operations in the area,” Tagapulot said. (John Roson)

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