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LEYTE, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights in Eastern Visayas will investigate the August 22 “sea blast” allegedly involving top communist rebels in Samar province
CHR Eastern Visayas director Desiree Pontejos told Rappler in an interview that a Nenita Tiamzon Santiago wrote to the agency’s central office on August 31, seeking help in verifying if Benito and Wilma Tiamzon were among the rebels killed in the reported encounter with personnel of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Storm.
A source familiar with the query, and who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed the letter writer was the rebel leader’s sister.
“The CHR executive director’s memo on August 31 is, to verify if the casualties of the recent ‘sea blast’ in Catbalogan Samar involve Mr. & Mrs. Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.” Pontejos said.
“We will forward all reports that we get to the CHR Central Office,” she added.
(JTF) Storm chief Major General Edgardo de Leon said two more bodies were recovered on August 31 and September 2, adding to the six reported on August 27.
The Tiamzon couple have long been identified as top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
Clear identification of the recovered bodies will take time, police authorities said, because they need to match DNA of the remains with those of close relatives.
The CHR officer could not say if Tiamzon’s kin has provided a DNA sample.
(JTF) Storm chief Major General Edgardo
De Leon said the last two bodies were found near Capul town in Northern Samar province, almost 90 km from Tarangan’s coast.
Rough currents in the Visayan sea made for a wide retrieval area and several days of searching.
De Leon told Rappler on August 27 that of the bodies recovered near islands northwest of Catbalogan, the provincial capital, two were females.
The dawn encounter happened in Tarangan after community informants tipped off the military that suspected rebels were loading ammunition onto a banca, a small motorized fishing boat.
De Leon said JTF members were nearing the banca, using a megaphone to announce their interdiction plan, when the suspected rebels opened fire.
The explosion happened mid-chase, the general said, quoting investigators as theorizing it was a case of “sympathetic detonation”. The term describes an unintended secondary explosion of an explosive charge triggered by a nearby blast.
Most of the bodies found had upper portions ruptured or torn to pieces, according to JTF Storm spokesperson Captain Ryan Layug.
None of the communications channels of the CPP have addressed reports placing the Tiamzons at the Samar encounter site.
De Leon said the August 22 encounter occurred after days of military pursuit of NPA units identified as ‘protectors” of rebel “VIPs”.
“Dahil sa na-corner namin itong mga areas na ‘to, kaya tumakas sila,” De Leon told Rappler. (We had cornered these areas so they were trying to escape.)
He said the military would continue pursuit operations although they “have strong reason to believe the rebel VIPs were in the banca that exploded.”
The couple was arrested in 2014 in Cebu City, but allowed to post bail for the 2016 peace talks between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and then-president Rodrigo Duterte’s government. They went back underground in late 2017 when Duterte ended peace talks.
A Quezon City regional trial court convicted the couple of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in in November 2020. – Rappler.com