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A New People's Army fighter in the Sierra Madre mountains in Quezon Province, Philippines, December 26, 2018. © 2018 ALECS ONGCAL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

(New York) – The Communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines executed three people in August after unfair trials before so-called People’s Courts, Human Rights Watch said today. The executions of the men as “counter-revolutionaries,” in trials that violated international humanitarian law, was the latest instance of what the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, calls “revolutionary justice” meted out against “enemies of the people.”

The NPA sought to justify the executions, which occurred in the central Philippines province of Negros Occidental, by citing the men’s alleged offenses, including spying for the Philippine military and common crimes such as rape. The armed group also said that the allegations against the men were “submitted before the people’s court” and that it held an “in-depth investigation and trial.” The group did not provide details about the trials, raising concerns about whether the men were present, were provided adequate representation, or had an opportunity to present a defense.

“The New People’s Army has a long history of executing people following trials that don’t meet the most basic standards of fairness,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The sparse information provided by the armed group about these recent executions suggests that once again, the most severe punishments were inflicted without any regard for fundamental precepts of international law.”

In a statement, the NPA’s Roselyn Jean Pelle Command confirmed the execution of Benjamin Javoc, 54, chairman of the Lalong village in the town of Calatrava, Negros Occidental, on August 26. The group claimed that Javoc was “notorious for protecting drug dealings within and nearby barangays [villages].” They also accused him of “crimes against the people and the revolutionary movement for being an active military asset mounting intelligence network within the barangay.”

On August 12, the group executed Renato Estrebillo, 43, a laborer from Calatrava. The group accused Estrebillo of “tipping off” soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion in the province, which then allegedly conducted operations in the same town on July 6. The NPA said that two children were injured and one civilian was arbitrarily arrested during the incident. It also alleged that Estrebillo was “notorious for theft of farm products and animals.”

On August 7, NPA fighters killed Rodel Nobleza, 37, from another village in Calatrava, for allegedly providing information to the army that led to a raid on the town in April 2019 that resulted in the deaths of two NPA members and a civilian. The NPA claimed he was also a drug dealer.

Human Rights Watch sent several emails and messages to the NPA requesting information about the conduct of the trials and executions, but received no substantive response. However, media reports that could not be corroborated indicated that the three men were not in NPA custody at the time of their executions, suggesting that they had no defense at their trials. Javoc reportedly was shot in his home, Estrebillo was shot as he was stepping out of his house, and Nobleza was killed after alleged rebels stopped him while riding a motorcycle with two children.

In December 2021, the same NPA command confirmed the executions of two people they accused of providing intelligence to the army. The group executed Ponciano Carbajosa, a former paramilitary member from Toboso town, on December 14. The previous day, the group killed Mariel Encarquez, also from Toboso. “Being an active intelligence asset, Encarquez became a legitimate military target,” the NPA stated.

Human Rights Watch has previously denounced unlawful killings and other abuses by the group that violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.

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 of 1977 (Protocol II), to which the Philippines is party. International humanitarian law prohibits the summary killing or mistreatment of civilians in custody or captured combatants, and punishments after proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards.

Protocol II specifies that courts prosecuting criminal offenses related to the armed conflict must be independent and impartial, and the accused shall have “all necessary rights and means of defense,” among other guarantees.

Throughout its 53-year history, the NPA has executed numerous people found “guilty” by its People’s Courts. Many of those were convicted in absentia, denying them the right to present a defense before an impartial court. The armed group has also killed or tortured allegedly traitorous NPA or Communist Party members, particularly during purges in the late 1980s and early 1990s when hundreds of cadres were accused of being “deep penetration agents,” or spies, for the Philippine military.

The provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental have long been focal points of the communist insurgency in the central Philippines, resulting in the heavy presence of government troops. In recent years in these provinces, government security forces have been linked to several cases of extrajudicial killings targeting leftist activists and human rights defenders. The Philippine armed forces have also “red-tagged” a number of people from the region, publicly accusing them of working for or assisting the insurgents, putting them at grave risk of attack.

“The New People’s Army should immediately stop executing people after phony trials by phony courts,” Conde said. “The Communist Party should recognize that wanton lawlessness and cruelty is no way to win over the Filipino people.”

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