communist insurgency

[OPINION] Challenge to NPA: Go beyond propaganda, render justice

Soliman M. Santos Jr

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[OPINION] Challenge to NPA: Go beyond propaganda, render justice
The communist rebels' continued silence on the 2021 killing of Absalon family members in Masbate raises concerns about 'revolutionary impunity'

Part 1

[OPINION] Still no peace talks. What’s to be done?

A core issue in the Masbate land mine incident is the communist guerrillas’ quest for justice, or “revolutionary justice.”  

It will be recalled that five days after, on June 11, 2021, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), through its chief international epresentative Luis Jalandoni and its negotiating panel interim chairperson Julieta de Lima, issued the following statement: “NDFP expresses condolences to the Absalon family, asserts its authority and duty to investigate the case.”   

They said: “It is correct for the people and all other entities to expect the investigation of the Masbate incident within the NPA command structure and within frameworks of the CPP, NDFP and the People’s Democratic Government.   Under the responsibility and direction of the NDFP and within the legal system of the People’s Democratic Government, the investigation must be started and completed within the NPA command structure to fully and completely establish the facts and prepare any appropriate charges before any procedure to prosecute and try the case before the military court of the NPA or people’s court.”

They stressed that the NDFP “will make sure that certain questions are answered by a thoroughgoing investigation. The questions include the following:  1) If true, which NPA unit and personnel are involved?;  2) Is there no case of the enemy committing the crime and falsely ascribing it to the NPA?;  and 3) Is there no local feud involved?  There should be no rush to judgment, presumption or insinuation to the effect that the entire revolutionary movement and entire revolutionary forces are guilty of a criminal offense, negligence or error for which certain individuals may be liable on the basis of a full and complete investigation. Crimes or errors of individuals cannot be taken against the whole organization or movement.” 

It’s been nothing but dedma (getting ignored) by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-NDFP since then. To ask again whatever happened to their promised investigation is like speaking to a wall or to the wind.  

One cannot but think how this continuing silence instead speaks volumes about the CPP-NPA-NDFP sense of transparency, accountability, and justice, or lack of it.  What is at stake here is not only primarily the justice that the Absalon family cries for, but also the consequential credibility of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and their so-called “revolutionary justice” system. 

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This system will also be judged by at least the minimum judicial standards applicable to the prosecution and punishment of criminal offenses related to the armed conflict per the 1977 Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions which the CPP-NPA-NDFP avow adherence to.  Will this system allow independent competent observers such as human rights lawyers and peace advocates?  It is correct for the people to expect knowing more about this system being the harbinger of an offered alternative future.  

Can this system render justice? Can it be trusted to render justice?  Is it revolutionary justice or “revolutionary impunity”?

Coddling vs punishing own forces 

Impunity, just like wisdom, is not the monopoly of one side.  

In fact, on the government side, its prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity under RA 9851 appears to be selectively limited to rebel (e.g. NPA, MNLF, Maute Group) perpetrators.  

There appear to be no such war crimes and crimes against humanity cases prosecuted against government soldiers and police officers. Surely, not all of them were/are immaculately clean in terms of counter-insurgency operations? In the same way that not all police officers and drug enforcement agents were immaculately clean in the Duterte “war against drugs” now being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).  

This ICC investigation, prosecution, and trial would proceed if it were established that the Philippines is “unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution” of crimes against humanity in the Duterte drug war. On the other hand, might the CPP-NPA-NDFP be “unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution” of its NPA-Masbate Jose Rapsing Command (JRC) Red commanders and fighters who perpetrated the Masbate land mine incident two years ago? 

“He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch” – was/is the old protect-our-own syndrome.  Both the NPA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have a long way to go to reach the exemplary level of organizational self-accountability and self-discipline of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) shown in its 2020 inquiry into the unlawful killings by its own special forces for counter-terrorism in Afghanistan, with likely eventual prosecution. 

Can the NPA and the AFP rise to the challenge of emulating that kind of organizational self-accountability and self-discipline? Your military contest in the field of battle against each other might as well be also a “contest” of which side is better in compliance with human rights and IHL, in following the rules of war, in fighting cleanly, in observing military discipline, in rendering accountability and justice.  May that kind of better side win, as it should.  

The sides of this war are really not only the warring parties or forces of the government and of the CPP-NPA-NDFP.  There is also the side of the general public or civilian population, especially in the local countryside communities affected by the armed conflict of the two main protagonist sides.  It is the human security interests of the local communities and people there in conflict areas that are served by human rights and IHL. Ultimately, it is the people who will judge which between the two warring sides is better serving and protecting them.  

This will have a bearing on the eventual end of the local communist armed conflict, whether by military victory/defeat or by a political process that need not be limited to the usual mode of peace negotiations. –

Soliman M. Santos Jr is a retired judge of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Camarines Sur; a long-time human rights and IHL lawyer as well as a peace advocate on both the Communist and Moro fronts; and author of several books on those fronts of war and peace, the latest being How do you solve a problem like the GRP-NDFP peace process? Part 2 (2022) published by Sulong Peace Inc., Quezon City.

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