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NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – San Carlos City Bishop Gerardo Alminaza called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other independent bodies to investigate the killing of five alleged noncombatant rebels, along with a tricycle driver in Kabankalan City on Thursday, September 21.
The military said the deaths resulted from an encounter in Sitio Lubi, Barangay Tabugon, Kabankalan.
“Violence cannot be resolved through further violence,” said Alminaza who has been red-tagged. He called for a different approach to end violence by peaceful means, rather than resorting to measures that violate individuals’ rights.
Andrea Guerrero, spokesperson for the Armando Sumayang Jr. Command of the New People’s Army’s Southwest Negros Guerrilla Front, claimed that five of the six fatalities were noncombatant members of the NPA, a claim that cannot be independently verified as of this posting.
The sixth fatality, Ruben Gaitan, was simply a tricycle driver contracted by the group. The tricycle was allegedly fired upon by soldiers from the Army’s 47th Infantry Battalion.
Noncombatants or hors de combat refers to NPA members who cannot engage in combat operations due to sickness, injury, capture, or incapacitation.
“These persons are not allowed to be attacked or harmed because they pose no threat,” Bishop Alminaza said.
Ariel Gaitan, the widow of the killed tricycle driver, said her husband worked at a sugar milling company in Kabankalan City and as a tricycle driver.
She rejected the military’s assertion that Ruben was an NPA guerrilla or had ties with the rebels, and maintained that he was merely hired by the group to drive for them.
The five NPA members were identified as the following:
- Bobby Pedro alias Ka Rekoy
- Mario Mullon alias Ka Goring
- Janice Flores alias Ka Joyce, who served as a medical personnel for the NPA
- Alejo delos Reyes alias Ka Bravo
- Melissa Dela Peña alias Ka Diane
Dela Peña, the wife of Delos Reyes, was six months pregnant and was said to be on leave.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, September 23, Alminaza stated, “According to the International Humanitarian Law [IHL], the seven Fundamental Principles that sum up the Movement’s ethics and are at the core of its approach to helping people in need during armed conflict, natural disasters, and other emergencies are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality.”
Alminaza, who has been involved in various human rights advocacies, said he was convinced that peace can only be achieved by addressing injustices.
In an interview with Rappler in April, Alminaza pointed out that some individuals choose to go underground and join armed struggles due to the systemic injustices in the country that remain unresolved.
As the Catholic Church celebrates this year’s ecumenical awareness month with the theme “Let Justice and Peace Flow,” the Diocese of San Carlos City has released a statement signed by Alminaza, urging the entire country to “confront the stark reality of injustice in our nation.”
The statement was published on Friday, September 22, on the official Facebook page of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
Regarding this year’s Season of Creation theme, Alminaza lamented that achieving it remains “elusive” in the context of the Philippines, where cases of “violence, injustice, and the targeting of activists” continue to rise.
Alminaza cited the case of two environmental activists, Jolina Castro and Jhed Tamano, who claimed to have been abducted and coerced by the military to sign affidavits inside a military camp as rebel returnees.
“It remains a dream when our government leaders choose silence and enable injustice instead. It remains a dream amidst the ongoing violence and killings,” Alminaza said.
He added that allowing justice and peace to flow would continue to be a dream if society succumbs to this “culture of death” and accepts it as the “new normal.”
As posted on CBCP News, the Season of Creation, also known as “Creation Time,” is an ecumenical celebration observed by the Catholic Church and some Christian Churches from September 1 to October 4.
On May 3, Farmer Crispin Tingal was killed as Army and communist rebels clashed in the uplands of Himamaylan to Kabankalan cities. Tingal was later declared by the authorities as a member of the NPA.
Tingal’s family denied the AFP’s claim that he was a rebel and said he was heading home from a seminar on catfish farming, part of the Sustainable Livelihood Program of the Department of Social Welfare Development (DSWD) and the City Agriculture Office of Kabankalan on the day the military reported him as a fatality.
More than a month later, Billy Fausto, along with his wife Emilda and their two minor sons, were killed inside their home in Sitio Kangkiling, Barangay Buenavista in Himamaylan City on June 14.
Military, police, and government officials blamed the NPA as the perpetrators of the massacre, alleging that Billy was a military asset trying to convince other NPA members, including his in-laws, to return to the law.
However, Billy’s family insisted that he was neither an NPA member nor a military asset. To this day, the case of the Fausto family remains unresolved.
The NPA has a history of killing residents on Negros Island whom they suspected of being criminals, a practice strongly condemned by the local government and the international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW). – Rappler.com