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In a grenade attack against an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) unit that should not of happened based on various rules of war and humanitarian laws agreed to by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), leaders of the NDFP recently paid the 45+ victims of a grenade blast during a tactical offensive performed by the Mercardo Arce Command unit of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The attack, which took place in Paquibato, Davao, Mindanao was meant for a unit of the AFP which had set up residence in Barangay Fatima which is contrary to various international and national humanitarian rights treaties signed by the Philippine government and the NDFP.
The death of civilians during the tactical offensive by the NPA unit was first brought to light by the NPA itself through a press release by the NDFP:
The NPA issues this self-criticism to apologize to the public and the families for the scores of casualties, including children. The NPA will take concrete measures to indemnify the victims, consistent with the principles of revolutionary justice and the policies governing the New People’s Army and the revolutionary movement.
The NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Company made a wrong decision in initiating a tactical offensive against the AFP detachment located in a civilian population. The NPA’s 1st PBC aimed in trageting [sic] a legitimate target to emasculate the enemy and wipe out its structure that has placed the lives and properties of the people in danger. But it erred in considering the circumstances, combat intelligence and all pertinent operational information in instigating the NPA action.
In the face of this gross mistake in judgement, the MAC-SMROC-NPA is currently initiating an internal investigation and is ready to take appropriate courses of action to include, among others, disciplinary action on the responsible unit.
The NPA stands firm for justice and truth and is prepared to rectify mistakes. By issuing this unflinching public apology and self-criticism, the NPA abides with the principled standpoint,viewpoint and method adopted by the NPA and the revolutionary movement.
According to Karapatan, church leaders, and government officials the AFP has been embedding itself in sitios and barangays all across the Southern Mindanao Region of the Philippines against the wished of local government officials and villagers across the region. In a report for Bulatlat Ina Alleco R. Silvero wrote:
United Church Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Bishop Modesto Villasanta, convener of the Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP) has, in the meantime, urged the 10th Infantry Battalion to leave the area.
“This is for the benefit of the farmers and Lumad communities who complain of being used as human shields and are subject to various forms of threats, harassments and other abuses by the military elements. Under the guise of peace and development, hinterland villages are subject to counterinsurgency operations under Oplan Bayanihan,” he said.
“The NPA has taken the first step- it has owned up to its errors, committed to indemnify and levy necessary sanctions and punishments on those responsible for the incident. The second party, the AFP is now being challenged to heed the call made by the city`s second highest executive. The AFP is compelled by law to withdraw unless it wants to show contempt for international humanitarian law and human rights protocols, “the EJP convener said.
The vice-mayor of Davao, Rodrigo Duterte, has also urged AFP units to leave all sitios and villages and to stop embedding its units with civilian populations before another incident like this occurs again.
Again, Silvero writes:
Last year, the City Council investigated the presence of a detachment near a public elementary school in Paradise Embac, Paquibato. Vice mayor Duterte supported the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) resolution urging the dismantlement of the detachment, but Mayor Sara Duterte went against it.
“The SP resolution underscored the dangers posed by the military detachment, especially against children. The resolution takes off from the complaints of parents and teachers of Paradise Embac who were forced to suspend classes due to the construction of a detachment of 69th IB within three meters from the school. In view of all existing protocols on war and human rights instruments, the military must voluntary pull out its troops and detachment from civilian populated areas, “ Villasanta said.
The grenade blast victims were near a gymnasium where a carnival had been set up and where an AFP unit had embedded itself only three meters away. Soon after the grenade attack the NDFP, according to the Inquirer, had asked for a third party to help convene the villagers on how best to move forward and what compensation was needed and who the victims were. Allan Nawal, reporting for the Inquirer, wrote:
A group representing various sectors has been formed to help prepare a list of and serve as conduit for compensation to civilians wounded in a grenade attack here that communist guerrillas claimed responsibility and apologized for.
Modesto Villasanta, Protestant bishop and one of the leaders of Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP), said EJP was formed last week in response to an appeal by the National Democratic Front (NDF) for facilitators to help deliver payments from NDF to more than 40 victims of the grenade blast in Paquibato District.
“Any move that aims to heal the wounds of this civil war that has been going on for decades and that is in compliance with international humanitarian law deserves support from peace-loving individuals,” Villasanta said.
Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who openly admits friendship with communist rebel leaders, said the presence of the military detachment does not justify the deaths of civilians.
Villasanta said the NDF’s compensation offer was a welcome step, though. It manifested a “willingness to make reparations for civilian casualties,” Villasanta said.
While the move by the NDFP to pay each victim for the grenade blast and to internally investigate the causes of the civilian causalities is welcomed by human rights and church groups the AFP is refusing to undergo its own review and to comply with civilian law and humanitarian rules of war by pulling its units out of civilian populations. The AFP is also using this incident as a propaganda ploy for its own counter-insurgency purposes under Oplan Bayanihan.
The military said paying the victims was not enough and NDF should surrender the guerrillas who are behind the attack.
“They (NPAs) are not the legal government,” said Lt. Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division. The guerrillas, Paniza said, should not be allowed to “rectify their errors through their kangaroo courts.”
“Justice will only be served to the victims if the perpetrators are surrendered and penalized,” Paniza said. “That is what the victims want,” he said
Countering the AFP demands to turn over NPA soldiers and civilian communist organizers Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson for the local Mercardo Arce Command stated:
These courses of action derive from a historical and political circumstance. The legal and judicial system and processes of the People’s Democrtaic Government do exist, is developing and is in force in its guerilla territories in the country. As a distinct armed force of the People’s Democratic Government, the NPA is not subject or subsumed within the legal and constitutional system and processess of the government of the Republic of the Philippines. As prescribed in the Hague Declaration which laid the framework of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, the US-Aquino regime and its AFP have no right to presume or demand from the revolutionary forces and its people to recognize, work under and lay prostrate before the GRP’s political authority, constitution,legal system and judicial processes.
The 01 September Paquibato incident was a display of serious but isolated human error, while the AFP’s human rights track record is a daily occurence and hallmark of its mercenary character. The NPA and the revolutionary movement is zealous in holding its forces liable should these violate the rules of war; it makes public an apology and self-criticism. In contrast, nothing of the sort or even approximating the earnestness made by the NPA has ever been made by the Philippine government, much less its armed force toward the victimes of state sponsored killings and other brutalities.
Thus, there is poverty in the proposal to maintain the AFP detachments and to demand peace by extinguishing the NPA or ask for its capitulation. Peace cannot be had with the silencing of the guns, and certainly not when the state remains fundamentally rotten, exploitative and oppressive. And when the US-Aquino government says that the Paquibato incident will directly affect the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, nothing can be farther from the truth. It was the GPH’s obstinate refusal to implement previous agreement that has prevented the resumption of the peace talks.
Also, according to Davao Today reporter John Rzle L. Saligumb, the victims of the blast viewed the NDFP’s apology and actions as sincere, which was counter to the claims AFP Lt. Col. Paniza:
“I thank the NPA (New People’s Army) for admitting their mistake and for the NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) for giving help,” said Marvin Polinar, 20, a resident in this village.
Polinar said he’s grateful that aside from paying for his medical expenses, the indemnification amounting to 5,000 pesos (USD 120) can help him with food and other expenses as he has not been able to work after sustaining wounds following the NPA’s grenade throwing incident.
“I thank the NPA that even though I only sprained my ankle when we ran for safety after the blast, they still included me in the indemnification. And I thank them for admitting responsibility. They truly are sincere,” said Primitiva Dadula, 56.
Still recuperating from her sprain, Dadula said she wasn’t able to attend to her farm. However, she considered herself lucky because she wasn’t hurt that bad.
“I thanked the NPA for fulfilling their promise of indemnification,” said Lemuel Puzon, 15, a fourth year high school student of Binowang National High School.
Puzon was hit with a splinter on his back. He will have to undergo operation to remove the shrapnel from his body.
“I forgive them (NPA) but I’m hoping that it will never happen again,” Puzon said.
Karlos Manlupig, a reporter for the Inquirer, reported the transfer of cash to the victims which happened on Sept. 18th:
At least 50 residents of Barangay (village)Fatima in Paquibato district here got P5,000 in cash each in compensation from the National Democratic Front (NDF) over injuries they suffered from the September 1 grenade attack, which communist rebels owned up to.
During the payout, held at the village hall of Barangay Fatima yesterday, a team of third-party party facilitators that included journalists, lawyers and members of the religious community, handed the cash to each of the victims.
Psychosocial services were also provided to the blast victims.
Barangay Fatima chair Rommel Cuso said he was thankful to the NDF and the NPA for the compensation.
“I don’t harbor any grudges against the NPA. I don’t blame them and I was not coached to give these answers. If one day they would pass by our house and ask for water, I would gladly give them,” said 15-year-old Lemuel Puson, one of the victims.
Puson said he was not blaming soldiers either, whom he described as the village’s protectors against criminals and drunkards.
But he said the military should consider moving its detachment away from the village center to spare civilians from getting caught in the crossfire.