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(New York,) – The rebel New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines should immediately end unlawful killings and detention of civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has admitted to gunning down civilians and detaining others in recent months.

“For four decades the New People’s Army has offered excuses for cold-blooded killings of civilians,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent attacks show that there has been no real departure from this illegal practice.”

According to an NPA press statement provided to a journalist, the NPA’s Mount Alip Front Operations Command in far south Mindanao admitted to the September 2, 2011 killing of Ramelito “Ramel” Gonzaga, 46, who the statement said was a member of a government paramilitary force. The statement said that Gonzaga was sentenced to death by the NPA’s “revolutionary people’s court” or Hukumang Bayan, for “crimes against the people.” The group has acknowledged that a stray bullet unintentionally wounded a pregnant woman, Ana Marie Campo.

The NPA has also claimed responsibility for the August 19 killing of Raymundo “Monding” Agaze in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, saying it was carrying out a 2008 order of the “people’s court.”

NPA leaders have often sought to justify killings by noting that “people’s courts” have condemned victims to death because of various “crimes against the people.” Punishments are imposed both for alleged criminal acts, such as rape and murder, and for activities deemed anti-NPA, such as spying for the armed forces.

Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions from 2004 to 2010, reported that the NPA’s court system “is either deeply flawed or simply a sham.”

“Any claim that people who are tried by the NPA’s ‘people’s courts’ are receiving a fair hearing is ludicrous,” Pearson said. “The NPA’s ‘revolutionary justice’ is not just – it is simply old-fashioned murder.”

The NPA has also detained civilians in violation of international law. It is currently holding at least 13 people in Mindanao, at least some of them civilians. These include Mayor Henry Dano of Lingig, Surigao del Sur province, along with his two military escorts, Cpl. Alrey Villasis Desamparado and Pfc. Allan Pelino. The NPA captured them on July 13 and claims they are intelligence operatives of the 75th Infantry Battalion-Intelligence Section and will face charges before the “people’s court.” On October 1 the Communist Party of the Philippines ordered Mayor Dano’s release. The NPA also detained four Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) guards on July 21 – Murphy B. Todyog, Eric D. Llamasares, Rogelio E. Begontes, and Rolando D. Bajuyo Jr. – and claims to have granted them “prisoner of war” status.

The remaining six are traders from Misamis Occidental, Ronald Boiles, James Mabaylan, Nelson Bagares, Ernesto Callo, Jr., Ronald Boiles, and Julieto Sarsaba, accused by the group of being government spies. A representative of the families told Human Rights Watch that the six were going house-to-house on August 19 on the border of Davao City and Bukidnon selling kutson, Filipino style beds, when the NPA captured them, accusing them of trespassing. Ka Ariel Inda Magbanwag, spokesperson for the NPA in Bukidnon-North Central Mindanao, has told journalists that the six are to be tried in the “people’s court.”

Human Rights Watch called on Philippine government authorities to promptly investigate the killings and unlawful detentions and to prosecute those responsible in accordance with the law. Human Rights Watch has previously criticized the Philippine armed forces and police for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of alleged NPA supporters and leftist politicians and activists.

“Both the NPA and government forces have committed numerous atrocities in more than 40 years of armed conflict,” Pearson said. “Each claims to have the interests of the ordinary Filipino at heart, but neither seems to show it.”

Since 1969 the NPA has been engaged in an armed rebellion with the goal of establishing a Maoist state in the Philippines. The Philippine military currently estimates that the NPA consists of around 4,700 guerrillas, who are active in about 69 of the country’s 81 provinces.

As a party to an internal armed conflict, the NPA is obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Second Additional Protocol, to which the Philippines is party. International humanitarian law prohibits killing civilians, mistreating anyone in custody, and convicting anyone in proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards.

The NPA has long admitted to killing government officials; soldiers, police, and pro-government militia; civilians who are deemed to engage in acts “against the people”; and allegedly traitorous NPA or Communist Party members.

Recent killings implicating the NPA include:

On July 13, 2010, NPA members shot and killed Mateo Biong, Jr., a former mayor of Giporlos town, Eastern Samar. The NPA claimed responsibility, saying it was carrying out a death sentence ordered by the NPA’s “revolutionary people’s court.”

On July 23, 2010, NPA members shot and killed Sergio Villadar, a sugar cane farmer, in Escalante City, Negros Occidental. The NPA claimed responsibility, saying its forces killed Villadar because he resisted arrest after being charged before the “people’s court.”

On July 31, 2010, two NPA members shot and killed Leonardo “Andot” Behing, a leader of Lupaca (Lumadnong Pakigbisog sa CARAGA), a group reported to have been affiliated with the Philippine armed forces at one time that is now largely a criminal band based in the town of Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.

On November 2, 2010, NPA fighters shot and killed Renante Cañete, a former leader of the NPA breakaway faction the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.

On February 28, 2011, NPA members shot and killed Jeffrey Nerveza in Albay, Bicol, saying that they were carrying out a death sentence ordered by the “people’s court.”

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