OVER THE past weeks, the Commission on Human Rights received reports on a number of atrocities allegedly involving both government forces and the New People’s Army in different parts of the country.
These incidences occurred despite the ceasefire declarations independently announced by both parties to give way to efforts in curbing the transmission of the coronavirus disease.
However, on 14 April 2020, alleged members of the armed communist rebels were said to have seized relief goods from barangay officials distributing them as aid to residents affected by the pandemic in Sitio Nagon, Barangay Guinmayohan, Balangiga, Eastern Samar.
On the same date, an unarmed CAFGU member, Wilson Estar Behing, was reportedly shot dead by alleged NPA forces at his residence in Sitio Baroboan, Barangay Carromat in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.
Four days later, 18 April 2020, an encounter also ensued between the Philippine Army and NPA—although the exact location is still in question whether in Sitio Anoy, Barangay Cabalaunan, Miag-ao, Iloilo, as government claims, or in the adjacent Sitio Mayong, Barangay Tordesillas in Sibalom, Antique, as the communist rebels identified.
Claims are also contradicting whether the lone casualty killed was an NPA member or an unarmed civilian member identified as John Farochilin, said to be an incumbent member of the Sangguniang Barangay of Barangay Onop; the chairman of the Alyansa sang mga Mangunguma sa Miag-ao; and a council member of the peasants’ alliance Paghugpong sang mga Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras. Seven others were also arrested.
Then, on 19 April 2020, separate clashes between government security forces and NPAs were also reported in Negros Occidental and Masbate.
The incident in Barangay Salvacion, San Fernando, Masbate ensued after government claims an attempt by NPA forces to attack the community and government troops. While the clash in Barangay Carabalan, Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental was a result of government pursuit over alleged extortion activities by the communist rebels. These encounters left one soldier and three others dead in Masbate and Negros Occidental respectively.
On Tuesday, 21 April 2020, alleged NPA members were also said to have opened fire at a convoy with representatives of the Department of Social Welfare and Development who were supposed to distribute cash to the beneficiaries of the government’s social amelioration program in the town of Maria Aurora, Aurora province. The hour-long gun battle was said to have left two soldiers dead.
It is unfortunate that, instead of channeling collective efforts in addressing the pandemic and extending help to communities most affected, initiatives are hampered with a series of cruelties triggered by armed conflict. These incidents of violence dilute the meaning of the ceasefire declarations and render them irrelevant in the communities, which are supposed to benefit most from the truce.
These cases shall be investigated by our different CHR Regional Offices to our best ability so that the truth may identify possible human rights violations and eventually demand accountability before our laws. We continue to call on both sides to respect their truce declarations and truly serve the people by not putting them in further danger in this time of Covid-19 pandemic.
(CHR statement on atrocities involving government forces and the NPA, April 25, 2020)