SF CHRP (San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) is a San Francisco based human rights advocacy group. Latest news and views on human rights in the Philippines.
On the night of April 20th in Capitulangan, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental a firefight broke out between the armed escorts of Mayor Guingona and the Philippine National Police (PNP) with soldiers of the New People’s Army who were manning a check-point.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer initially reported on April 21st:
Police and military troops are pursuing a group of communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas who wounded Gingoog City Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona, wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., and killed two of her bodyguards in an attack in Misamis Oriental province late Saturday.
Mayor Guingona, 78, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), suffered bullet wounds in the arms and feet. She was also wounded by shrapnel from a grenade blast during the attack in the hinterland village of Alatagan in Barangay (village) Upper Kapitulangan.
Guingona, mother of Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, was returning with a six-member escort from a town fiesta in Alatagan when they were “ambushed” by the rebels, Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, spokesman for the Philippine National Police, told reporters in Manila.
Cerbo said the rebels fled after a 10-minute fire fight with police. But the mayor was safely retrieved only at dawn Sunday, hours after the attack, because the site was a remote area.
The clash happened when soldiers at the NPA checkpoint were waving the escort of Mayor Guingona down and their checkpoint was rammed by the lead car which lead the PNP and armed escorts to initiate and open fire against the NPA.
Immediately following the incident NPA Jiito Tito Command apologized for the incident:
The New People’s Army-North Central Mindanao Regional Command expresses its sincere apology to the Guingonas, the Velasco family and the people of Gingoog City for the unfortunate incident last night, April 20, around 10:20 PM in Capitulangan, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental. It is confirmed that a firefight took place between the armed escorts of Mayor Ruthie Guingona and an NPA unit where two driver-bodyguards were killed while Mayor Guingona herself and two other civilians were wounded.
We offer condolences and express our deepest sympathy for the bereaved families of Bartolome Velasco and Nestor Velasco, who were both killed in the incident.
Contrary to reports that the incident was an ambush, it started when Mayor Guingona’s armed escorts fired upon an NPA checkpoint in Capitulangan. The group was on its way home when it passed by the NPA checkpoint near the bridge in Capitulangan. The lead vehicle of Mayor Guingona’s convoy rammed against the bamboo roadblock mounted by the Red fighters while her escorts opened fire at the NPAs flagging down the convoy. The Red fighters immediately returned fire in self defense.
The said NPA unit was carrying out orders from the Regional Command to implement the revolutionary policies regarding the conduct of elections, to flag down candidates and campaigners who carry firearms and armed escorts during their campaign sorties in guerilla zones when doing their campaign rounds without proper coordination with the concerned revolutionary territorial committees and commands.
Since April 15, NPAunits in the different fronts of NCMR have launched coordinated checkpoints to implement this policy. Three of these checkpoints were put up in Gingoog City. Among those held at a checkpoint in Brgy. Samaywere four of Mayor Guingona’s campaigners. Aside from explaining our policy to her campaigners, responsible cadres in the area also personally contacted Mayor Guingona through phone, reminding her to avoid bringing armed escorts during campaign sorties.
We recognize Vice Pres. Guingona’s significant contribution to the Filipino people’s anti-dictatorship struggle and his steadfast nationalist standpoint on various issues. We look upon Senator TG Guingona’s pro-people standpoint. Thus, we are deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident. We take responsibility for this.
For the civilian casualties, we will exhaust all efforts to contact their families to extend our indemnification and lend needed medical assistance to the wounded.
Despite this incident, the NPA will continue to put up checkpoints in the implementation of revolutionary policies and to ensure the peaceful conduct of election campaign in guerilla zones. We wish to reiterate our warning to all candidates who are campaigning in guerilla zones to avoid carrying firearms or armed escorts to avoid the occurrence of similar incident in the future.
The progressive multi-sectoral national democratic alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), also came out with a statement:
Bayan is deeply saddened by the shooting incident involving a New People’s Army unit in Misamis Oriental and the convoy of Gingoog Mayor Ruth Guingona. We offer our solidarity with the Guingona family during this difficult time.
It is right that the NPA assumed responsibility for the action, apologized for the deaths and injuries of civilians, and offered indemnification to their families. Complaints by the aggrieved parties can be brought directly to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines through the GPH-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Mechanisms are in place to ensure that there would be a proper investigation and that there would be accountability for the NPA actions.
It is not surprising too that the Armed Forces of the Philippines says that the NPA checkpoint was done because of the alleged refusal of Mayor Guingona to pay campaign fees to the NPA. This is meant to make the incident appear as a case of plain extortion, detached from the bigger picture which is the ongoing civil war and the stalled peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP. The AFP should top using the incident to draw attention away from the many unresolved human rights violations linked to the military, such as the abduction of Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan and the murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay.