CPP insists former communist leader tortured, killed by state forces

The rebel Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) insisted that a former rebel leader and his wife, who were found dead in an Iloilo town in December 2020, were tortured and killed by the state forces. 

In a statement on Wednesday, March 17, the CPP claimed that Antonio Cabanatan, 74, and his wife Florenda Yap, 65, were abducted, tortured, and murdered by the police and the military in Oton, Iloilo, on December 26, 2020, the 52nd founding anniversary of the New People’s Army. 

The couple’s death was first reported in December when local residents found their bodies in a rented house. Police declared it a robbery, saying they were strangled to death by still unidentified assailants. 

The CPP said that at the time of their death, the couple had already retired from the communist underground. Their murder was an act of state “terrorism” under President Rodrigo Duterte, the rebel party added. 

But acting Oton police chief Police Captain Robert Jayson Pancha denied the allegation, pointing out that they even arranged the funeral of the couple after no one claimed their remains. 

Wala po kaming kinalaman diyan… Kung murder man po ‘yung pagkamatay nila, wala po kaming nakikitang anggulo na police and military po ‘yung dahilan," Pancha told Rappler in a phone interview. (We have no involvement. If they were murdered, we can’t see any possibility that the police and military killed them.) 

Kami na po nag-process ng lahat… Tapos pinalibing namin, proper burial talaga. May misa, may kanya-kanya silang coffin, in-embalmed nang masyado," the acting Oton police chief added. (We processed everything. Then we buried them, proper burial. With mass, with separate coffins, then they were thoroughly embalmed.) 

Retired communist leader

Antonio Cabanatan retired from the communist underground in 2017, according to the CPP. He served as the secretary of the Mindanao Commission and was a member of the central committee of the CPP, the party's policy making body. 

He and CPP founding member Jose Maria Sison are the only 2 people remaining in the still pending proscription case of the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking to declare them as terrorists. The DOJ trimmed down the original list of more than 600, and the court further trimmed it down to 2.

Three other activists who used to be in the original list were also killed – Randy Malayao, Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez.

Proscription is a distinct court power to declare a person or a group as terrorists. But the anti-terror law provides for a unique power of designation, where only the anti-terror council made up of Cabinet members decides who to designate as "terrorists."

The council designated the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization in December 2020 for the purpose of freezing assets. This was tagged as a fishing expedition by activists who fear that this would be used to harass long-targeted community organizers.

Designation is among the contentious provisions of the anti-terror law that is being questioned by various sectors before the Supreme Court. – With reports from Lian Buan/ Rappler.com