From InterAksyon (Feb 4): Kin of NPA victims in Negros Occidental ambush won't accept apology
The relatives of those killed in an ambush by the New People’s Army in the central Negros town of La Castellana last week are not yet ready to accept the rebels’ apology for the death of nine people, including two civilians. This was a week after the incident that has drawn condemnation from various sides of the political spectrum.
“I have talked to the families and they said it’s really hard to accept the NPA’s apology,” Puso village chief Florencio Nellis told InterAksyon.com after the rebel group’s Leonardo Panaligan Command issued a statement admitting that one of its operating units was responsible for the incident. “It was supposed to be a disarming operation,” the command’s spokesman, JB Regalado, said in an Ilonggo tape-recorded statement sent to media outlets here.
The NPA spokesman said the rebels were able to confiscate seven firearms, among them two M16 assault rifles with serial numbers 181540 and 183397, a submachine gun with serial number 45N3, an M2 Carbine with serial number 690874, a shotgun, a 45 caliber pistol, and a .357 revolver. They were also able to retrieve night vision goggles, magazines, and ammunitions. More firearms were not recovered because it was dark at the time, Regalado said.
The NPA official also said the rebels started firing only after they heard shots from the truck in response to the warning shot fired by an NPA guerrilla.
‘We just fired back’
Killed that early morning of January 27 were Police Officer 1 Richard Canja, and Teotimo Esplegera and Mario Ricablanca, all members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team; the driver, Ricky Dingcong; Lito Lucban, Jonathan Mateo, Ulysses Tamayor, Ramil Complesa, and the lone female fatality, Virgenia Ordoñez.
The nine who were wounded were PO3 Constantino Villegas, PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez, Bonifacio Bayate, Cristoto Perolino, Jerry Lacquedo, Roger Bajar, Jamil Roma, Victoriano Donasco, Jason Ocsimar, all residents of the village of Cabacungan.
Apologies and assurances of punishment
“We are sorry for the deaths of Virginia Ordoñez and Ricky Dingcong and the wounding of a 14-year-old teenager,” Regalado added as he assured the families of the victims that there the NPA will conduct its own investigation and punish the fighters and commanders responsible for the deaths. He said the process will follow the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law.
CARHR-IHL is a landmark agreement signed between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, representing the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, as a result of peace negotiations on the first substantive agenda, respect for human rights and the IHL.
Regalado said the rebels will talk to the families of the civilian victims and indemnify them even as he scored Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr and acting provincial police chief, Senior Supt. Celestino Guara. “To call it a massacre is ‘non-rational’ and illogical,” he said, referring to Guara’s statement. Regalado added that the NPA rebels are not drug addicts, describing Marañon’s declaration as “not responsible and lacks thought.”
The NPA spokesman also denied claims that his group executed some of the victims by finishing them off with a shot to the head. “That is not true,” Regalado said.
But this claim that was quickly contradicted by Guara who went to the crime scene hours after the incident.
“(Didto) gid ko ya sa crime scene, (eight) cadavers wasak ulo (I was there at the crime scene, eight cadavers had their skulls blown off),” he said in a text message to InterAksyon.com when asked if the results of the post-mortem autopsy had already been released by the Philippine National Police.
Radio reports had earlier quoted Berino Ordoñez that the rebels could have fired at some of the victims even though they were already sprawled dead.
He said he heard gunshots but did not see if the rebels finished off some of the victims, including one who crawled under the truck but was seen after one of the attackers shone a flashlight on him.
“I told one of the rebels we are civilians but he shot back: if you are civilians, why are you with the police?” he added.
Ordoñez survived after his wife reportedly covered him with her body.
He also took off his BPAT uniform during the firefight, which he believes is the reason why he is still alive.
“If I was still using it when they were doing the clearing operations they could have also killed me,” he said in the vernacular in an interview with dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod.
Regalado also reminded police and military personnel not to allow civilians to ride with them in vehicles because they are simply using them as “shields.”
Armed BPAT members?
But were the members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team really armed?
Officials are unsure about it.
Guara told InterAksyon.com that while he might be sure that the policemen – Canja and PO3 Constantino Villegas and PO2 Jeffrey Alvarez – were armed, it has not been established in the police investigation that the BPAT members were also carrying firearms.
The three policemen brought with them the BPAT members from the Cabacungan police sub-station to help guard the benefit dance during the village fiesta of Puso.
Nellis, on the other hand, said he has not seen the Cabacungan BPAT members carrying firearms or if they were, were simply carrying them for the policemen.
Guara said BPAT members are not allowed to carry firearms unlike members of the Police Auxiliary Unit that are supposed to be established in “red areas” or places where there are armed elements of the CPP or the NPA.
The BPAT is only for those in the “white areas” or places where there are no armed elements of the rebel movement. It is also possible that officials in the two villages could not have known about whether BPAT members carried arms.
Intelligence reports have indicated that Canja was a target by the rebels for being active in setting a counter-insurgency network in the area, Guara had said days after the incident.
What is BPAT?
Launched in 2009 during the term of then PNP chief Director General Jesus Versoza, the BPAT’s mission as described in a PNP manual is “to conduct peacekeeping activities in association with the various sectors of the community and ensure their continuous support towards the maintenance of peace and order and safety.”
The manual also contains a discussion on the concept of the BPAT that: “It is along this line that a peacekeeping concept responsive to the unique peace and order condition in the Philippines needed to be crafted. The concept basically calls for PNP members to lead in the fight against all forms of criminality (including insurgency) distinct to their areas of responsibility, utilizing active citizen involvement and community empowerment.”
It also pointed out that the BPAT is also “…in response to the CPP-NPA Barangay Module being implemented by left-leaning groups in their community campaigns; their activities are characterized by deception as they profess noble intentions but actually seek to destroy the democratic institutions of our country.”
Regalado said in the same statement that they have received reports that some members of the BPAT are also being used to spy on the CPP-NPA operating in the two villages.
While Guara cannot comment if some of the BPAT members are ex-rebels, a resident of barangay Puso told dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod that some of them could have become targets of the NPA because they “surrendered” to authorities and were made to carry firearms.
The woman, who asked not to be named, is an aunt of Canja who added that these BPAT members “strutted about” after they were allowed to carry guns.