Army HQ to probe doctored photo of communist surrenderers

JC Gotinga
The Philippine Army says it will sanction 'whoever is accountable' for the photoshopped image of supposed communist guerrillas surrendering to the government

DOCTORED. The Philippine Army's 9th Infantry Division admits to doctoring this image depicting a row of supposedly surrendered guerrillas. Photo from the Philippine Army's 9th Infantry Division

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Army leadership will investigate a doctored photo supposedly depicting communist guerrillas surrendering to the military in Masbate, Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said in a statement on Saturday, December 28.

The Army’s commanding general, Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, ordered to “hold whoever is accountable to face the appropriate sanctions,” Zagala added.

The photo in question came with a press release from the Army’s 9th Infantry Division (9th ID) that has charge over Bicol. Sent to reporters on Thursday, December 26, the press release said 306 communist guerrillas from the New People’s Army (NPA) and affiliated militias surrendered to authorities that day, the 51st anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The image showed a row of people looking onto a cache of rifles and other firearms on a table, which they supposedly turned over to the Army. However, the row of surrendered rebels appeared to have been rather crudely superimposed on the image of a hall with a table off to the side, as people pointed out on social media.

News of the touched up photo went viral, putting into question whether the reported surrender of hundreds of guerrillas was fake, too.

The 9th ID admitted to doctoring the image out of their “ardent desire to release timely information,” but insisted that the reported surrenders were real, and they did not intend to “mislead the public.”

“We admit to have committed a mistake though by manipulating the photo for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of the lives of the former rebels and their families,” the 9th ID said in a statement on Friday, December 27.

Zagala acknowledged the 9th ID’s “explanation,” adding, “We at the Philippine Army Headquarters hold our line units in high regard when it comes to the release of information to the media and the public, and their admission to the mistake is proof of their commitment to the high standards of public affairs principles.”

Mass surrenders?

Different units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines often report the surrender of communist guerrillas in their areas of jurisdiction, as the national government pushes to end the decades-long CPP-NPA insurgency.

The reported surrender in Masbate on December 26 was part of “localized” efforts to quell the rebellion by having local government, police, and military units deal with individual guerrilla fronts, encouraging guerrillas to surrender.

The government runs an “Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program” (E-CLIP) that offers incentives amounting to P65,000 to every guerrilla who surrenders and agrees to return to civilian life. In January 2019, the Department of the Interior and Local Government reported that 1,117 former rebels were enrolled into E-CLIP from July 1, 2016 to December 28, 2018.

The Duterte administration considers this “localized” approach to combating the communists a success, based on its reports of guerrillas surrendering in droves.

Until a proposed revival of peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NPA’s political wing, the National Democratic Front, officially begins, the “localized peace talks” with communist rebel fronts will continue, security officials said.

All these go along with the Duterte administration’s amped-up campaign against communist rebels. Congress is set to amend the Human Security Act to broaden its definition of “terrorism,” which may include participation in communist activities. The government, in fact, refers to communist guerrillas as “terrorists.”

The government has also expanded its list of organizations it considers to be “legal fronts” of the CPP-NPA, such as the Gabriela Party-list and Oxfam in the Philippines.

It also plans to increase police and military presence in schools where they suspect such groups to be recruiting students as guerrillas. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.