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Monday, June 17, 2024

PH Army calls off search operations in boat explosion

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Search and retrieval operations involving a boat which exploded in Samar and reportedly killed National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultants Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria-Tiamzon have been called off.

The Philippine Army said it stopped the search operations for passengers due to bad weather.

Reports said the boat exploded in waters off Catbalogan City, Samar on Monday.

The Army’s 8th Infantry Division said troops did not find the bodies of the Tiamzons, and there was no clear proof of the couple’s presence in the boat, CNN Philippines reported.

“The troops have returned and they did not find anyone,” Maj. Gen. Edgardo De Leon, the division commander, told reporters.

He also said it was not clear if the Tiamzons were among the passengers since their reported presence was only based on a tip and intelligence units cannot even present photos, CNN Philippines reported.

“It appears that the operating units assumed that those onboard the motorboat were the Tiamzons based on the tipster’s description that they were VIPs. The information did not specifically refer to the couple. They were not named. They were just referred to as ranking personalities — VIPs,” he further said.

De Leon said it is puzzling why the motorized boat exploded as it was being pursued by government troops. The Army is looking at the possibility that the explosion could have have been an accident or was self-inflicted.

The Tiamzons, who were tagged by the government’s Anti-Terrorism Council as “terrorists,” are considered fugitives.

A Quezon City court sentenced them to up to 40 years imprisonment in November 2020 for the kidnapping of four Army lieutenants in 1988. The couple walked free in August 2016 after being allowed to post bail to attend the peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway as consultants of the NDF, CNN Philippines reported.

Reports said the NDF represented rebels in peace talks to end the five-decade insurgency waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. The Tiamzons were ordered rearrested in 2018 when then President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks.

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