The New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Mindanao Region condemned the attempted arrest by combined military and police troopers of its commander recuperating from a major operation in a Bukidnon hospital.
The NPA said Zaldy Cañete, injured in a fierce gun battle in Barangay Kipilas, Kitaotao, Bukidnon Thursday, is obviously an hors de combat and must be given protection, respect and humanitarian medical treatment and recovery in accordance with civilized rules of warfare.
“The GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) should not subject Cañete to further punitive action by virtue of his condition as an hors de combat,” Rigoberto Sanchez, the NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command spokesperson, in a statement said.
An hors de combat is a person who is “outside of the fight” after injury or surrender.
On May 10, 2018, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion attacked Cañete’s 1st Pulang Bagani Company, resulting in a two-hour fire fight that involved aerial and ground bombing by the GRP troops.
Cañete sustained head and body injuries, including a bullet wound on his lower left ear that exited on his right frontal skull.
The NPA said eight government troopers were in turn killed.
Cañete was turned over to his relatives in the area who took him to the nearby Don Carlos District Hospital where he underwent an 11-hour brain surgery.
The injured Red fighter is suffering memory loss and loss of speech as a result of his injuries and is confined at the hospital’s intensive care unit, the NPA said.
A few hours after his operation, however, AFP, PNP and intelligence operatives arrived and attempted to serve multiple warrants of arrest against Cañete, the NPA said.
“The GRP’s hasty attempted arrest and detention of Cañete is treacherous and violates the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the Geneva Conventions and other generally accepted principles and standards of international humanitarian law which clearly protect injured persons of the Parties in armed conflict,” the NPA said.
“In the same manner that the NPA has treated leniently any captured personnel of the military, police and paramilitary forces as prisoners of war in faithful allegiance to the international customary law pertaining to humanitarian principles, norms and rules in armed conflicts, the GRP has no recourse but to afford Cañete the same rights and non-discriminatory protection,” it added.
Human rights group Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP) echoed the NPA’s call, saying the attempted arrest of an hors de combat is an international humanitarian law violation.
“Any action taken by the AFP on Cañete would constitute a serious breach and will dampen the spirit of reopening the [peace] talks,” EJP said in a statement.
“[The] EJP observes that the AFP continues to ignore the efforts of the GPH panel and the people’s clamor for peace as it continues its operations and propaganda. Clearly this does not help the peace talks,” their statement added.
The EJP periodically acts as a third party facilitator to the release of GRP troops who were taken as prisoners of war by the NPA.
The EJP appeals to the government to release Cañete on humanitarian grounds and as part of an enabling environment for the resumption of the talks.
NDFP and GRP peace negotiators are reportedly engaged in a series of backchannel talks in accordance with GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to try to revive the peace negotiations he cancelled in November last year. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)