Philippines Condemns Landmine Attacks by Communist Rebels

Jojo Riñoza and Froilan Gallardo
Manila and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
Philippines Condemns Landmine Attacks by Communist Rebels Jaime Padilla, a spokesman and regional commander for the Philippine communist New People’s Army rebels, raises a clenched fist after a clandestine news conference at an NPA camp in the Sierra Madre Mountains southeast of Manila, Nov. 23, 2016.

The Philippine government on Wednesday “strongly condemned” roadside bombings by communist rebels that killed two civilians and injured five others during the weekend.

A spokesman for the insurgents later apologized to the family of the civilians who died in one of the blasts, saying they were not the intended targets and that the group had a policy of not attacking civilians.

In the first attack, communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas detonated an anti-personnel mine along a road in a remote village in Masbate, a province in the central Philippines, as a group of bicyclists passed by on Sunday, police said.

The explosion instantly killed Keith Absalon, 21, a university athlete, and his uncle, Nolven Absalon, 50. Nolven’s 16-year-old son was also injured. The teenager was rushed to a hospital but has been proclaimed out of danger.

On the same day, in Legazpi City, east of Manila, four motorists were wounded in a similar NPA bomb attack, the military said. The authorities did not explain why the reports about the weekend attacks came so late.

“The Department of National Defense strongly condemns the violence and senseless killing of Keith and Nolven Absalon in Masbate perpetrated through the use of anti-personnel mines by the CPP-NPA,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement Wednesday.

He was referring to the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing, the New People’s Army.

“This tragedy is not caused by a mere ‘tactical error’ as they claim,” he said. “The use of these anti-personnel mines that killed the Absalon cousins is actually a matter of procedure for these terrorists who are bent on inflicting death and damage to lives and property.”

The rebels’ use of landmines violates international laws that safeguard civilians during war, the defense chief said.

Vice President Leni Robredo also condoled with the victims’ families, as she deplored the NPA’s use of land-mines.

“No goal or ideology can justify the use of such devices,” Robredo said. “Landmines are murder. We condemn this incident without qualification.”

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch also weighed in on the issue of land-mines.

“The use of anti-personnel landmines, which are prohibited in the Philippines under the Mine Ban Treaty, is a war crime,” said Carlos Conde, its Philippine researcher for the New York-based group. “Those responsible are subject to criminal prosecution not just in the Philippines but in courts around the world.”

NPA: ‘No justification’

On Tuesday night, Marco Valbuena, a spokesman for the CPP-NPA, reached out to news agencies, saying said it was carrying out an internal investigation into the incident in Masbate.

“The entire CPP and NPA take full responsibility for the tragedy,” Valbuena said. “There is no justification for the aggravation this has caused the Absalon family.”

NPA guerrillas are always reminded not to harm civilians, he said, and insisted that the incident should not have happened. However, Valbuena did not address the NPA’s use of landmines.

He said the CPP-NPA hoped that the Absalon family could accept their apologies, and offered “any appropriate form of indemnification” the victims’ relatives might demand.

After the weekend attacks, government security forces ramped up offensives against the NPA, killing three of the suspected guerrillas in a shootout in Masbate on Tuesday, officials said.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines assures the relatives of the victims that we will pursue relentlessly the rest of these criminals – including their leaders – until we get rid of these menaces in our communities,” Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the military chief, said Wednesday.

Since 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies. At present, the communist guerrilla force is estimated to be about 5,000 fighters strong and divided among 80 fronts across the Philippine archipelago.

President Rodrigo Duterte, once a university student of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, opened talks with the insurgents shortly after he became president in 2016.

Duterte cancelled the talks a year later, when he accused the rebels of carrying out attacks despite his peace overtures.

In March, Duterte ordered security forces to end the communist rebellion once and for all.

On Tuesday evening, the president told a local TV network that the NPA was a “terrorist group fighting without a cause,” as he ruled out a new round of negotiations with the communists.

“It’s dead in its tracks,” the president said about the prospect of resuming talks with the CPP-NPA. “It is in still waters.”

“I do not want to negotiate,” he added.


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