Communist rebels shot and killed three people during an attack in the southern Philippines over the weekend, including a tribal chieftain who was an outspoken critic of the leftists, the military said Monday.
The chieftain, Hawudon Jomar Bucales, and six of his companions were on their way home after appointing an indigenous peoples’ leader in a village when they were ambushed near a remote town in Surigao del Norte province on Sunday, said Lt. Kris Punzalan, a spokesman for the local Special Forces Battalion.
“Bucales and his group fought back and were able to retreat. He went back to get his two wounded companions but unfortunately, he was hit and killed,” Punzalan said.
In a statement Monday, officials with the Communist Party of the Philippines confirmed that members of the New People’s Army – the party’s military wing – had killed Bucales, whom the party had accused of being “one of the masterminds” of the 2015 killings of a school administrator and two tribal leaders in Surigao, but said they were killed in a gun battle” with NPA guerrillas in Lianga town.
The outlawed Philippine communists have been waging an insurgency since 1969, the longest running one in Asia.
Bucales was the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative of Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
“We mourn his death and we condemn these NPA terrorists,” said Datu Constancio Duhac, a senior tribal chief from Lianga.
“His death will not stop us from fighting for the rights of IPs. His death will not discourage us, rather it will inspire and ignite us more to protect our tribe from them,” he said, using the common term used here for ‘indigenous peoples.’
Bucales was one of the leaders of the Magahat-Bagani, a military-backed militia that some groups blamed for the killing of Emerito Samarca, administrator of a hinterland school built by religious groups for the Manobo tribe, and two tribal leaders, Dionel Campos and Datu Jovelo Sinzo, in September 2015.
Bucales was never formally charged and the military had said that communist rebels were using the school as a shelter, a charge denied by the Communist Party of the Philippines
Many Manobo tribe members had long been opposing the entry of mining and logging companies into their ancestral lands, and were accused by state forces of supporting the communist rebels.
Marco Valbuena, chief information for the CPP, said the statement on Monday that a rebel “people’s court” had tried Bucales and others accused of the 2015 murders.
“Bucales was leader of the so-called Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group in the Surigao del Sur and received guns, funding and publicity support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and mining companies operating in the area,” Valbuena said.
The communist official further alleged that Bucales had recently been issuing renewed threats against the leaders of the community school.
Bucales had also been an active campaigner for the passage of an anti-terrorism bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law in July.
The new law allows the government to carry out warrantless arrests of suspected militants and hold them without charge for up to 24 days. The legislation removes a clause requiring police to present suspects before a judge to determine whether they were tortured. It also creates a special anti-terrorism council, to be made up of presidential aides instead of members of the judiciary.
The law is widely opposed by lawmakers and human rights groups who say it contains provisions that could be used to target his opponents, including people who have criticized alleged extrajudicial killings carried out during his administration’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.
Analysts also believe that the law will be used to target communist rebels. In 2017, Duterte formally proclaimed the CPP and its armed wing, the NPA, as terrorist organizations.
In August, Randall “Randy” Echanis, 72, a consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines – the political wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines – was slain at his home during a raid in Quezon City, a northern Manila suburb.
Echanis was active in opposing the anti-terrorism bill.
Ariel Casilao, a former leftist congressmen, condemned the killing of Echanis in August and alleged that his body was found with stab wounds.
“Our anger is beyond words. This is a culture of extrajudicial killings with impunity under the Duterte regime,” Casilao told BenarNews in August.
Duterte has vowed to crush the communist movement and the NPA while rejecting any prospects of resuming peace talks with them. He initiated peace negotiations with the group when he became president in 2016, but talks subsequently fell through after he accused the rebels of continuing attacks.
“This is a declaratory act that national leaders of the legal-democratic movement are now targeted to be killed by the Duterte regime,” Casilao said.