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SAMAR, Philippines – The retired general of the Samar-based Army division allegedly responsible for the deaths of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon described the rebels’ claim that they had been captured on land, tortured, and then killed as “propaganda” and “drama.”
“I categorically deny that,” retired major general Edgardo de Leon, the former commander of the 8th Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Storm, told Rappler in an interview on Friday, April 21.
De Leon said he could not confirm whether the Tiamzons were among the ten rebels that perished in a pre-dawn sea explosion off Catbalogan on August 22, 2022.
The CPP statement, which said the rebels died a day earlier, said only eight bodies had been recovered.
“I said before, only science would tell us who these casualties were, through DNA tests,” De Leon said in a mix of English and Tagalog.
“When someone claiming to be Benito’s sister surfaced, I advised them to go to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for DNA tests. There was no follow-up,” he told Rappler.
“They mixed facts, and lies, in one article,” De Leon said. “The positions of the Tiamzons are facts; they have been in the top leadership for five decades.”
But the retired general said, “they are lying in saying the Tiamzons were captured because we were not able to capture them.”
“We did not capture them on the road because we were aware of their escorts and that if there were a firefight, people would get caught in the crossfire. We wanted to avoid that,” he stressed.
Government forces did not even come close to the rebels on land, De Leon told Rappler.
“We used technology for tracking them. We had a way of tracking them.”
The CPP narrative, he said, was aimed at the rebel forces.
“The purpose is to give some drama on the death of their leaders, to create heroic deeds for their tributes.”
Read parts 2 and 3 of the report here:
A press release by Marco Valbuena, the CPP’s chief information officer, cited a months’ long probe by the CPP central committee.
Government troops flagged down the “unarmed” Tiamzons’ on the national highway near Catbalogan City between 12 to 1 pm of August 21, said the CPP statement..
Benito, the party’s executive committee chairperson, and Wilma, the CPP’s secretary general, were traveling on two separate vehicles, Valbuena said.
The couple and their eight companions, all from the party’s central headquarters, were reportedly beaten badly.
The Tiamzons and their companions were already dead when troops dumped their bodies on a motorboat filled with explosives and tugged from the waters off Catbalogan midway toward Taranganan island before detonation, the CPP said.
Rappler earlier interviewed De Leon in September 2022 to get a clearer picture of the events that led to the explosion at that time.
It also tried to ask known spokespersons of the CPP and its regional organs, but the common response of the rebels was there was no word about the couple’s fate.
The CPP April 20 statement said the political bureau and its executive committee received confirmation and capture of the killings within a few days.
In the September 2022 series of interviews, De Leon used the third person when discussing the military operation.
On Friday, he admitted personally managing and leading the eight-month operation until its final moments.
The retired general reacted to statements by activist and human rights groups, all quoting the CPP statement, that the events surrounding the rebels’ deaths and other incidents of hors de combat were “blatant violations of international humanitarian law.”
“I always look into the three principles of international humanitarian law or the laws of armed conflict,” he said.
“Even if the target is distinct, we exercise precaution to make sure they really are the enemy. So during the actual operation, we used a loudspeaker. Instead of stopping, they fired at our troops, confirming that they are indeed combatant, kalaban.”
De Leon also said it was his decision to accost them on “the high seas, as a precaution, so nobody would be affected.”
The choice of weapons, he added, was meant to ensure “there would be no collateral damage.”
De Leon said he doubted the CPP did any forensic investigation.
“Perhaps, they eventually learned from those inside (central headquarters) what took place before they left, and they talked with the unit where the couple was attached, what were their last plans. That’s probably what they mean by investigation.”
The retired general said the official announcement should encourage other families to submit to tests and claim the remains of their kin.
“We also want closure on this and nakiki-dalamhati tayo, hindi natin kagustuhan at kapwa Pilipino yun, (we condole and we did not want that to happen as they are fellow Filipinos). We are just performing our duty to end the conflict within out country,” he said. – Rappler.com