‘Kung hindi ka makakauwi, sino ka?’ There’s no way home for some residents of 4 Marawi villages

The city government says parts of Marawi villages Datu Naga, Datu sa Dansalan, Dansalan, and Sabala a Manao are government property. Residents may not be able to return to what became ground zero of gun battles between the military and pro-Islamic State militants in 2017.


MARAWI CITY, Philippines — Bantog Panomblayan firmly stomps his feet on broken red tiles abandoned on the ground. 

“Eto na ngayon ang bahay ko,” he says. “Na-mimiss ko nga ‘to. Nu’ng nakita ko, parang sumama loob ko.” (This is my house now. When I saw these tiles, I felt angry. I miss my home.)

The house is gone. Only parts of the flooring and beams mark the place. To its left stands a bare, two-storey Datu Naga barangay complex, built under the government’s rehabilitation efforts following the end of a catastrophic war between Islamic State (IS)-linked groups and the Philippine military in 2017. 

The Datu Naga Barangay Complex, which cost nearly P14 million to build, stands beside the site of Bantog Panomblayan’s former home. His property is marked by small red tiles and cement (lower middle). Photo by Juffali Magarang

Bantog is one of over 300,000 residents and traders forced to flee Marawi and nearby towns because of the five-month long siege, the longest urban armed battle in recent Philippine history. 

While many have yet to rebuild their houses six years after the city was declared IS-free, he is part of an aggrieved community that has been permanently displaced after major infrastructure was built on four villages at Marawi’s ground zero. 

For the people left behind by these projects, whether they remain hopeful or have become hopeless in reclaiming their redesigned villages, one desire is constant: They wish to return home. 

 Surprise infrastructure  
In 2018, when Marawi residents were allowed to return to the former battle area, Bantog Panomblayan came home to rubble. Photo by Dada Grifon

After the war, Bantog came home to rubble. Like many residents, he wrote his name on a carton paper using charcoal and stood in front of his wrecked property for a photo. It was a requirement for the government’s displacement profiling. 

Bantog remembers saying: “Ito ang bahay kong tatlong palapag pero ngayon, wala na.” (This is my three-storey house, but it is now gone.)

Three years later, in 2021, what remained of his house was gone. Bantog returned to the site for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the barangay hall. He had been working by then as a Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team officer.

His house was cleared without his consent, he said. Residents were also not informed nor consulted about the infrastructure projects built within their village. 

Bantog Panomblayan reminisces memories at his former three-storey home and community at Barangay Datu Naga while looking over his displacement profiling photos. Photo by Dada Grifon

These sentiments are echoed by residents of three other affected and neighboring villages – Datu Sa Dansalan, Dansalan, and Sabala Amanao – who also spoke with Rappler and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Felix Castro Jr., field office manager of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), explains that the former residential areas were chosen as sites of major rehabilitation projects because these are located on a reclamation site considered government property based on mapping conducted by the local government unit (LGU) of Marawi.

But affected residents contest this. They argue that no legal documents were presented by the LGU nor were proper forums held to officially inform the public about the legitimacy of such a claim. Some clans insist they possess traditional land titles to the property, which means these are privately owned.

Unresolved land claims at the four villages are not only a dilemma for displaced residents, but also for traders who abruptly lost their businesses due to the siege, says history professor and Marawi advocate Tirmizy Abdullah. 

Four residential villages in Marawi’s Most Affected Area were converted into commercial, activity, and leisure areas. These hundreds of millions worth of newly built structures, which displaced thousands of locals, are part of the government’s war rehabilitation efforts. Photo by Juffali Magarang

“Na-uproot ‘yung mga tao sa kanilang sariling lugar. Hindi lang physically, kundi pati na rin [‘yung] identity mo…kasi since time immemorial nag-bubusiness ‘yung mga tao sa lugar na iyan,” says Abdullah. (The people were uprooted from their own places, not just physically but also in terms of their own identity because people have been doing business in that area since time immemorial.)

Abdullah was also displaced by the war and Marawi infrastructure projects, and cites as an example his own mother’s stall at Old Padian where the Peace Park at Barangay Datu sa Dansalan now stands.

The devastation of Marawi’s economic sector was massive, he adds. If there are temporary shelters for the displaced residents, there should have been temporary market sites as well so the traders of Old Padian could continue doing business, Abdullah argues. 

 Economic displacement 
The almost P300-million Peace Park features pasalubong centers, huts, a garden, a LED tv, and a lighted water fountain. Formerly in its place was the Old Padian, the city’s market center before the Marawi siege, situated in Barangay Datu sa Dansalan. Photo by Juffali Magarang

Among these veteran traders is Hadji Yasser, who even went to Manila so he could rebuild his clothing business in 2018, a year after being down and jobless due to the siege. 

Ramadan was fast approaching when Marawi was attacked on May 23, 2017, so vendors at Old Padian like Hadji had replenished their stocks in preparation for the Islamic holy month of fasting, prayer, and celebration. 

“Nawala na lahat nung mga ari-arian namin, mga paninda namin. Tsaka wala kaming naitakbo na maski isa. ‘Yung nasa suot lang namin ang naitakbo namin,” he recalls. (We lost all our goods and properties. And we couldn’t save even one item. We evacuated with only what we were wearing.)

Hadji thought the war would last only three days. When the smoke cleared months later, he estimated his total losses at P4.5 million. This is the total value of three stalls Hadji used to own at the historic market, where he had sold goods since 1991 up to the day the siege broke out. This amount excludes the costs of lost products and hard labor. 

Hadji Yasser, a long-time trader at Old Padian, lost approximately P4.5 million worth of stall investments due to the 2017 Marawi siege. In 2019, he started re-establishing his business at the city’s Omaira Market, where some traders from Old Padian relocated to recover their trade.  Photo by Dada Grifon

After a series of setbacks and one year of working in Manila, Hadji returned to Marawi in February 2019 to set up his business at Omaira market, a smaller, privately owned trading center where several Old Padian stall owners have transferred to make a living.  

While Hadji and his family have settled anew in his hometown four years since their return, fellow traders at the old market have scattered all over, especially across Luzon. Some of those he met again after the siege were still struggling to survive in Manila.

“‘Yung mga iba sa kasamahan natin may namatay…’yung iba hindi pa nakakabangon [dahil sa mga nawala sa giyera],” says Hadji. (Some of our fellow traders have died, while others haven’t recovered due to their losses from the war.)

To revive the economic strength of the city derailed by armed conflict, the government has built a four-storey New Grand Padian with two buildings, wet and dry markets, at least 400 vendor stalls, service escalators, and an elevator, according to the TFBM. 

The city government-led project costs over P400 million and is located at Barangay Sabala Amanao, a former residential area where locals claim to have been blindsided about the infrastructure project. Some of whom we spoke to still lived in transitory sites within and outside of Marawi.

Although there is no news yet on how the newly constructed market at the MAA will be operated, original business owners at the Old Padian hope they will be prioritized and given space to sell again in the new building. 

“Hindi ko pa napatunayan kung paano makakuha ng puwesto,” Hadji shares. “[Pero] sana ay ma[pag]bigyan na kami sa pagbalik namin sa pag-bubusiness sa ground zero.” (I don’t know yet how I can apply for a stall. But I hope we’ll be allowed to return to doing business at ground zero.)

 Erasure of identity and community 

Tata*, not her real name, is a displaced resident of Datu sa Dansalan. She has relocated four times across provinces in Northern Mindanao since the 2017 Marawi siege. In the last five years, she has been living in a temporary shelter in hopes of still returning to the city’s ground zero, despite infrastructure being built over their village. Photo by Dada Grifon

Given the diaspora created by the Marawi war, many of those from the four villages have moved to different parts of the Philippines, says Abdullah. These locals might not return to Marawi anymore because they know there’s nothing to go home to. 

“Kung hindi ka makakauwi, sino ka?” he asks. “Ayaw namin na permanent identity namin ay bakwit (displaced).” (If you cannot go home, who are you? We don’t want our permanent identity to be that of a displaced person.)

“Bakwit” is a label that Tata*, a resident at Datu sa Dansalan, despises, having relocated four times across provinces in Northern Mindanao since the height of the siege. 

“Kapag hindi kami makauwi sa aming lugar, para kang basura na inilagay sa kahit saan-saan. Wala ka namang dignidad doon,” she shares. (We’re like trash that is thrown anywhere when we’re not able to go back home. There’s no dignity in that.)

This dignity was also lost for Tata when the government built infrastructure, such as the Sarimanok Sports Stadium, within their village without regard for the affected community’s immediate needs and culture. 

She describes the project as “foreign” to her because, she says, the design isn’t anchored on the Maranao way of life, and people have so far been denied real access to the facility. Tata says what residents need are markets and mosques that will support local business ventures and provide spaces for prayer.

“Para kanino ba talaga ‘yan (infrastructure)? Para saan ba talaga ‘yan?” Abdullah stresses. “Kung totoo talagang sineserve natin ang mga tao, kung talagang naka-sentro sa tao [ang rehabilitasyon], mas ipri-priority natin na ibalik ‘yung mga tao sa dati [at] ibalik sa kanila mga pagmamay-ari nila kaysa sa [pagpapatayo ng] infrastructure.” (Whom is the infrastructure really for? What is its real purpose? If we are truly serving the people, and the rehabilitation is people-centered, we should prioritize getting peoples’ lives back to normal and returning their properties instead of building new infrastructure.)

These days, the four villages in Marawi’s ground zero are filled with fully built but empty or rarely used structures. No locals are allowed to inhabit these villages. Instead, it has become a favorite tourist spot for curious outsiders from all over the province.

Displaced residents like Tata and Bantog don’t often visit anymore because transportation to the former battle area is expensive. Going back also triggers traumas and bittersweet memories of their lives before the siege.

There are residents like Tata who are still hoping and fighting for their safe and dignified return to their villages despite the odds. 

But there are also the likes of Bantog, who don’t have proof of land ownership and have given up any hope of coming home to ground zero. 

Six years after the Marawi siege, Bantog Panomblayan carries on with his life at the Sagonsongan temporary shelter with the support of his family and meager earnings from a makeshift karinderya (eatery), a venture similar to their well-off restaurant at their former home in Barangay Datu Naga. Photo by Dada Grifon

Living for more than five years now in the Sagonsongan transitory site, Bantog and his family are surviving the daily grind with the help of relatives and a makeshift karinderya (eatery) in front of their shelter. 

His eatery was his money-making business before the war, a restaurant connected to his home. It was also where Bantog stood when he first heard about IS forces taking over Marawi in 2017. 

Bantog says that life is over. It’s now a waiting game for when he can obtain permanent shelter and receive compensation for properties lost to the siege. END

== = = = =

Raizza Bello is a regular contributor to Rappler and is a fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

ON PALESTINE: If you continue the struggle, you will be free–Leila Khaled

War again rages in Palestine. Initial media reports parroted the narrative that it was started by a “terrorist attack” by Palestinians and that the Zionist government of Israel is only retaliating.

In November 2015, Palestinian struggle for freedom icon Leila Khaled visited the Philippines and granted Kodao an exclusive interview. In this video, she explains the Palestinians’ fight to reclaim their homeland from the imperialist-designed occupation by Zionists.

[Interviewer: Raymund B. Villanueva]

NDFP Peace Panel ‘immensely outraged’ at Tiamzons’ brutal deaths

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel said it is “immensely outraged” at the killing of its member Benito Tiamzon and peace consultant Wilma Austria Tiamzon it blames on the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Following the announcement Thursday by the Communist Party of the Philippines that the Tiamzons were arrested, tortured and killed in Catbalogan, Samar last August 21, NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Julieta de Lima said they are also in deep mourning for the Tiamzons and their eight companions.

“The reported manner of their questionable capture, inhuman treatment and barbaric torture, and the deceptive scheme to dispose of their and eight of their comrades’ mutilated bodies are despicable acts of evil persons from the GRP State’s terror machinery,” de Lima said.

According to the CPP, the Tiamzons and their companions were captured at a military checkpoint near Catbalogan and and suffered severe beating in the hands of their captors, citing witnesses who saw how the faces and bodies of the victims were smashed with hard objects.

Their dead bodies were then taken to a boat that was blown up off the coast of Samar province to make it appear that they were killed in a firefight with the military’s Joint Task Force Storm, the 8th Infantry Division and the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trident in the early morning hours of August 22, 2022 off the coast of Catbalogan.

The CPP added that the “Catbalogan 10” suffered the same fate as other CPP and New People’s Army (NPA) leaders who were brutally killed after capture, such as in the case of NPA spokesperson Jorge Madlos (Ka Oris) in October 2021, NPA national commander Menandro Villanueva (Ka Bok) in January 2022, revolutionary leader Antonio Cabantan (Ka Manlimbasog) in December 2020, CPP Central Committee leader Julius Giron (Ka Nars) in March 2020 and a number of others.

“This deliberate pattern of either arbitrarily arresting or outrightly murdering activists and revolutionaries must immediately stop,” de Lima said.

Instead of meaningful resolution of the armed conflict, the killings and other damaging acts and statements by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) make it more difficult to address the root causes of the armed conflict, she added.

AFP denies CPP report

In media interviews Thursday, retired 8th Infantry Division-Philippine Army commander Edgardo de Leon denied the CPP report that the Tiamzons were captured in a military checkpoint and were subsequently killed.

De Leon confirmed however that they implemented a dragnet in the area and purposefully engaged a number of alleged NPA fighters off the coast of Catbalogan where there is little chance of civilians being caught in the crossfire.

He also denied that their Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trident directly involved American troops.

 Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police said the results of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) results from abroad to establish if body parts retrieved on the coast of Catbalogan were indeed those of the Tiamzons.

The CPP however said that the supposed offshore firefight was an elaborate way to hide the torture the Tiamzons suffered in the hands of the military.

“The claimed mid-sea firefight and explosion were all a drama hatched by the AFP and its US military advisers, to hide all evidence of the ignominy of their fascist crime. In truth, the already lifeless bodies of the Tiamzons and their group were dumped on a motorboat filled with explosives, and tugged from Catbalogan midway towards Taranganan island before it was detonated. Only eight bodies were subsequently retrieved by the military,” CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said.  

The NDFP Negotiating Panel said the Tiamzons should not have suffered arrest, torture and murder as they were protected by several signed agreements and protocols.

“Being protected persons under the GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as well as the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), in particular, and of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in general, they should have been accorded all their rights and not murdered in cold blood by remorse-deficit GRP State terrorists,” de Lima said.

Arrested for the second time in southern Cebu in 2014, the Tiamzons were released from jail in 2016 to enable their participation in formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP in Europe.

Benito was a member of the NDFP Peace Panel and a key political consultant of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Group (RWG) on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR). He was 71 years old.

Wilma a political consultant of the NDFP RWG on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (EHDF). She was 70 years old.

Childhood sweethearts, the two were classmates at Rizal High School in Pasig where they graduated at the top of their class.

They both studied at the University of the Philippines where they separately joined the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan but jointly went underground when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Imposed martial law in 1972.

They rose to become two of the CPP’s top leaders and was credited for leading the party in its Second Great Rectification Movement in the 1990s.

The CPP said Benito was chairperson of its executive committee while Wilma was secretary general of its central committee at the time of their deaths.

“Ka Benny and Ka Wilma are incontestably two of the most beloved, selfless and brightest leaders of the struggle. They, like Joma (Sison), Fidel (Agcaoili), Randall Echanis, Randy Malayao, Pedro Codaste and countless others, have steadfastly dedicated their whole lives, energies, wisdom and talent to achieve a truly  just and lasting peace for the people,” de Lima said.

“We honor their legacy by carrying on what they have passed on with even more vigor and resolve.  There is no other option,” de Lima added.

Meanwhile, the CPP’s Central Committee urged all NPA units nationwide to perform 21 gun salutes for the Tiamzons on April 24, the 50th founding anniversary of the NDFP. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Tenacious and determined’ NPA frustrates Duterte’s all-out war

CPP congratulates Red Fighters on 53rd anniversary

The Rodrigo Duterte government has failed to crush the New People’s Army (NPA) despite vowing to do so before its term ends, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said.

In its message on the NPA’s 53rd anniversary today, the CPP said the revolutionary army has successfully frustrated Duterte and his military generals in their repeated declaration of crushing the people’s armed resistance.

While admitting losses due to the government’s new arsenal of weapons and strategies, the CPP said the NPA has preserved itself and has achieved victories in most guerilla fronts.

“The Red fighters and commanders of the NPA, and the Party cadres leading the NPA, have displayed great tenacity and determination to bear heavy sacrifices, surmount all adversity and limitations, and exert all efforts to defend the people against fascism and state terrorism,” the CPP said.

The underground party also said NPA fighters are willing to shun all desires for comfort and convenience as they shoulder the difficult tasks in waging the people’s war.

“They draw joy, strength and inspiration from the peasant masses who the NPA serves selflessly, and who, in turn, provides for the needs of the NPA,” it added.

The NPA is operating and has preserved its strength in all of the country’s 13 regions, the CPP said.

Bicol NPA twits Duterte

The NPA in Bicol said the Duterte government has failed to crush their armed revolution in the region.

Red fighters of the NPA’s Romulo Jallores Command prepare for a cultural presentation as part of their celebration of the 50th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao)

“The advancement of the people’s war in Bikol, despite its being one of the focus of US(United States)-Duterte regime’s anti-people war, is one of the most undeniable proofs of Duterte’s failure to curb the people’s democratic revolution. The insistent mass surrender campaigns, militarization and civilian killings only pushed the Bikolanos towards revolutionary struggle,” Raymundo Buenfuerza, spokesperson of the NPA’s Romulo Jallores Command said in a statement.

“Where are Duterte’s boasts and strong promises that he can pulverize the revolutionary movement during his term? With barely over two months remaining and despite ceaseless empty declarations of surrenderees after surrenderees, encounters and whatnots, the truth that they failed came straight from none other than the tyrant himself,” Buenfuerza added.

The Bicol NPA further said is reduced to pleading and coercing NPA members into pacification as the President’s “last bid to show some success for his bragging and unrealistic declarations six years ago.”

Buenfuerza said the NPA’s continuing advance in Bicol is one of the most undeniable proofs of Duterte’s failure to curb the “people’s democratic revolution.”

More gov’t troops

The CPP revealed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has created new combat units to try to crush the NPA, to no avail.

The group claimed that almost 60% of the AFP’s combat troops are concentrated in five of the 13 regions, namely, Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, Southern Mindanao, Bicol and North Central Mindanao.

“There is a marked increase in the deployment of troops in Far South Mindanao, Negros, Southern Mindanao, Eastern Visayas, Cagayan Valley and Southern Tagalog. The AFP aims to conduct large-scale and focused military operations, coordinate its various branches and make full use of the whole range of its arsenal against the guerrilla forces of the NPA,” the CPP said.

Despite repeatedly declaring that the NPA has been weakened and is set to be crushed before the end of Duterte’s term on June 30, the AFP and PNP continues to increase its counter-guerrilla combat forces, the CPP said.

It added that there are presently 166 combat battalions of Army, Air Force, Marines, Scout Rangers, Special Action Forces and other military and police units deployed against the NPA, 21 more than the previous year.

The NPA’s First Pulang Bagani Battalion in formation in Davao City in 2017. (R. Villanueva/Kodao)

“With this number, the AFP can deploy 5 to 6 battalions against their priority or focused guerrilla sub-regional or front areas of the NPA, and deploy two to three in non-priority areas. The AFP and PNP have established joint commands and operations,” the CPP said.

“The push to achieve overwhelming military superiority, however, has the opposite effect of deepening its political inferiority,” it said.

Increased budget for the military

The CPP said the Duterte government has increasingly overspent on the military and police yet failing in its objective in crushing one of the world’s oldest Communist guerilla war.

It said Duterte’s budget for the military further increased to ₱221 billion this year from ₱217 billion last year, in addition to creating and unleashing another brutal anti-insurgency program led by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The NTF-ELCAC had an increased of ₱17.5 billion in 2021 from ₱4.2 billion in the previous year, ₱10 billion of which was categorized as unallocated.

The AFP has also received a total of $1.14 billion worth of military assistance in the form of Foreign Military Financing, military training programs and others mainly from the United States of America and other foreign countries in the past six years.

The CPP said the Duterte government purchased attack and combat utility helicopters, jet fighters and attack aircraft, cannons and artillery systems, 500-lb and 250-lb bombs, rockets and missiles, drone systems, tanks, armored personnel carrier, electronic surveillance and communication equipment, rifles, bullets and many other new equipment to fight the NPA.

It has deployed GPS tracking systems, button-sized cameras to track guerrilla movement in forested areas, equipment for mobile phone surveillance in a bid to utilize new technology in fighting the guerilla NPA.

The government has also enacted a new anti-terrorism law and let the NTF-ELCAC control civilian government agencies in a “civil-military junta.”

It has also designated the CPP, the NPA as well as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as so-called terrorist organizations.

Rampant human rights abuses

The CPP said that all the AFP and the PNP succeeded to do however are rampant human rights abuses, both in the cities and rural areas.

“In the cities, military and police agents subject unionists, community organizers, youth and women activists, as well as human rights advocates, progressive religious leaders, teachers and health workers to surveillance, harassments, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings,” it said.

“The situation is even worse in the countryside, although there is gross under-reporting of incidents of military abuses and violations of human rights,” it added.

The CPP said the government enemy has erased all distinction between combatants and civilians in its “arbitrary accusation” of civilians as being communists or communist-supporters using the new anti-terror law to justify gross violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

“It lays siege on communities mobilizing large numbers of troops in night-time or early-morning raids on peasant homes such as in the Oplan Sauron in Negros, the massacre of Tumandok minorities in Capiz and the Bloody Sunday mass killing of activists in Southern Tagalog,” it said.

‘Serious setbacks’

The CPP admitted that the NPA suffered “serious setbacks,” including the loss of NPA national commander Menandro Villanueva and NPA national spokesperson Jorge Madlos in the past year.

It also admitted that some NPA units committed errors, showed internal weaknesses and committed shortcomings that “incapacitated [them] from effectively using guerrilla tactics of concentration, dispersal and shifting.”

“A few of these units have been saddled with various problems including over-concentration and self-constriction, weakness in striking the correct balance in military and political work, leading to their inability to strengthen and expand the mass base and area of operation,” the CPP said.

“Some units have been afflicted with conservatism and passivity or a mountain-stronghold mentality. In some guerrilla fronts, the enemy was able to concentrate its forces on a limited area and apply brutal tactics of suppression against the masses to build blockhouses, compel NPA units to retreat to rough terrain where supply and flow of information is difficult, and force them into a purely military situation,” it revealed.

The CPP urged all NPA units to “self-critically assess their situation, identify and overcome their weaknesses and shortcomings and surmount their limitations, in order to steadily advance from one level to another.”

The NPA in Negros Island. (File photo/Nonoy Espina+)

7 tasks

While showing great resilience and frustrating six years of Duterte’s offensives, the CPP said the NPA must quickly adapt to the tactics and strategy of its and carry forward the “people’s war.”

“We must creatively enhance our tactics in guerrilla warfare in order to wage extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare on an ever widening and deepening mass base. As always, the key is to arouse the broad masses of the Filipino people in order for them to rise up in great numbers against the fascist tyranny,” it said.

It added that the NPA has the following tasks in the coming years:

  1. Strengthen the Party’s leadership of the NPA.
  2. Vigorously wage armed struggle and resist the enemy’s brutal war of suppression.
  3. Strengthen the New People’s Army.
  4. Broaden and deepen the NPA mass base in the guerrilla fronts.
  5. Generate widespread support from the cities for the revolutionary armed struggle in the countryside.
  6. We must systematically proselytize among the enemy’s ranks.
  7. Aggressively generate international support for the New People’s Army and the Philippine revolution.

(Report by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bicol NDF says Masbate ‘clash’ another police canard

The group said the three massacre victims were civilians and not communist guerrillas.

The National Democratic Front in the Bicol Region (NDF-Bikol) denied a clash happened between the New People’s Army (NPA) and government forces in Masbate last June 8 that the Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed resulted in the death of three communist guerrillas.

The three victims were civilians who were abducted and later killed by troops of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (PA) and the provincial police, NDF-Bikol spokesperson Ma. Roja Banua said in statements.

In a June 9 statement, Banua said the government troops indiscriminately fired their guns from four to eight o’clock Tuesday morning and abducted farmers Ramon ‘Boy’ Valenzuela Brioso of Sitio Mabuaya, Matiporon, Milagros; Antonio ‘Tony’ Polegrantes of Barangay Hermosa, Cawayan; and Ailyn ‘Eket’ Bulalacao Gracio of Sitio Bantolinao, Barangay Amutag, Aroroy.

Brioso, 58 years old, was chief cowboy of 7R Ranch while Polegrantes was barangay Hermosa chief tanod, Banua said in another statement today.

PNP-Bicol claimed the three were NPA guerrillas who were part of the group behind the bomb blast that killed footballer Keith Absalon and his cousin Nolven on June 6 in Masbate City.

Bicol regional police spokesperson Maj. Maria Luisa Calubaquib claimed a firefight happened between 30 suspected NPA fighters and a PNP-PA composite team in Barangay Anas, Masbate City at 5:30 a.m. last Tuesday.

The government troopers were reportedly serving an arrest warrant to murder suspect Arnold Rosero the police said may be the leader of the group who detonated the bomb that killed the Absalons.

The police added that the bodies of three dead were found at the clash site after the 15-minute firefight.

The PA for its part claimed guns, ammunition and bomb parts were found near the clash site.

Philippine Army 9th Infantry Division public affairs chief Capt. John Paul Belleza claimed government soldiers found 14 M16 rifles, an M653 rifle, an M14 rifle, bullets, tents and bomb parts in a nipa hut at the boundary of barangays Anas and Bolo.

Banua however denied a clash happened between the NPA’s Jose Rapsing Command and the government troops last Tuesday.

“The police must be drunk from gunpowder-induced illusions when it claimed they confiscated 17 firearms, command-detonated explosives and other war materiel from a made-up clash,” Banua said.

The NDF spokesperson also revealed that the Masbate Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) had already repeatedly announced Rosero killed in various clashes in the past years.

The latest claim by the local police was issued to please newly-appointed PNP chief Guillermo Eleazar, Banua said.

“In their haste to take advantage of the NPA’s humble admission of its mistake (in the Absalons’ deaths), they are telling a multitude of lies that are easily disproven. They will also personally benefit from the reward monies they are sure to claim from the national TF-ELCAC,” Banua added.

NDF-Bikol challenged investigating groups to look into how the government’s anti-communist task force is taking advantage of the Absalon family’s grief as well as the death of the three “farmer-civilians.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP: AFP blurs distinction between banned and allowable landmines

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) cautioned against claims the New People’s Army (NPA) uses landmines that are banned by the Ottawa Convention as claimed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In a statement, the NDFP National Executive Committee belied claims by various military spokespersons that the NPA uses landmines that are banned by the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines.

“There are the tendentious, misinformed and even maliciously distorted claims of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and other entities on the issue of the legitimacy and acceptability of the use of certain types of landmines in warfare in the context of the present armed conflict and in accordance with an accurate reading of international humanitarian law and instruments on the matter,” the NDFP said.

The group said the NPA only uses command-detonated landmines that require a person to be present, observing the landmine emplacement and manually detonating it, usually electrically, upon the approach of a moving target close to the emplacement.

Command-detonated landmines are different from the indiscriminate type of landmines that are triggered by weight, pressure, or tripping of a wire.

“It is the position of the NDFP that the use of land mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) – particularly and most especially those that are command-detonated anti-personnel and anti-vehicle types or contact-detonated anti-vehicle types—are legitimate tools of warfare, it said.

The AFP however only generically describes the explosion reported to have killed footballer Keith Absolon and cousin Nolven last June 6 in Masbate City as “anti-personnel mines.”

The military said the NPA is behind a total of 141 incidents of use, stockpiling, transport and production of anti-personnel mines or landmines which have so far caused 224 casualties since 2010.

In its definition of landmines, the Ottawa Convention said that anti-personnel mines are those designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.

“Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped,” it added.

The NDFP said that the Ottawa Convention only bans the use of anti-personnel mines that are detonated by proximity to or contact of a person.

“It neither prohibits the use of command-detonated anti-personnel mines nor both target-detonated and command-detonated anti-tank/vehicle mines,” the NDFP said.

The NPA’s landmines are known to target military and police vehicles bearing government forces.

The NDFP bewailed that their enemies are using the deaths of the Absalons to blur distinctions between banned and allowable landmines.

“This present incident and many others in the past are unfortunately being manipulated to blur the distinction between the allowable command-detonated anti-personnel mines, target/contact-detonated as well as command-detonated anti-tank/vehicle mines, on the one hand, and the generally disfavored target/contact-detonated anti-personnel mines, on the other hand,” it said.

It earlier cautioned the public from immediate condemnation of the NPA pending the result of a thoroughgoing investigation the Communist Party of the Philippines promised to conduct on the incident.

“There should be no rush to judgment, presumption or insinuation to the effect that the entire revolutionary movement and entire revolutionary forces are guilty of a criminal offense, negligence or error for which certain individuals may be liable on the basis of a full and complete investigation,” it said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

DILG, NTF-ELCAC afraid of peace, NDFP consultant says

A National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant condemned “militarists” in the Rodrigo Duterte administration for opposing the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Left and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

NDFP consultant Rafael Baylosis in a statement Friday said those opposing attempts to resume the negotiations are afraid that the peace talks would eventually lead to a genuine just and lasting peace in the Philippines.

“This is because they are afraid it might lead to certain agreements for reforms such as the free redistribution of land to peasants and national industrialization,” Baylosis said.

“They also do not want the possible grant of general amnesty to the CPP-NPA and release of political prisoners,” he added.

‘No more talks’

In a strongly worded statement last February 21, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTC-ALCEC) denied the possibility of the peace negotiations being resumed in the last 16 months of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“There will be no resumption of peace talks with the NDFP now or ever in as far as the Duterte Administration is concerned,” it said.

The task force said peace negotiations with the Left had always been a mistake, accusing the NDFP and its allied organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of having been insincere from the start.

The Department of Interior of Local Government (DILG) in a statement Wednesday, February 24, said it supports the NTF-ELCAC declaration.

“The [DILG] fully supports the position of the [NTF-ELCAC] opposing any move for the resumption of the failed peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” DILG officer-in-charge Usec. Bernardo C. Florece, Jr.

Florece added that back channel efforts to resume peace negotiations with the NDFP are futile.

‘Their statements run counter to declarations by Duterte’s emissaries with the NDFP however.

Norway pushes for resumption

Labor secretary and former Government of the Philippines chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III revealed in a two-day online forum last week he and former Pangasinan Rep. Hernani Braganza were supposed to travel to The Netherlands last December to meet with the NDFP.

The trip did not push however as new coronavirus cases spiked in Europe since November.

Bello also revealed the Royal Norwegian Government, Third Party Facilitator to the GRP-NDFP Peace Process, had been working on back channel talks to resume the stalled formal negotiations.

He added that Duterte is again “very much inclined” to revive the negotiations the President scuttled in June 2017.

NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Juliet de Lima for her part said the planned back-channel talks would resume discussions on an interim peace agreement (IPA) that includes agreements on social and economic reforms.

IPA discussions shall also include possible coordinated unilateral ceasefire declarations as well as modes for their implementation, de Lima said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte lies on razor blade killing, NPA in Negros says

The New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Island denied President Rodrigo Duterte’s accusation it killed a soldier using a disposable razor blade, in turn accusing government troops as “consistent violators” of the rules of war.

“It is not true. The four police officers were fired upon by the NPA and were never tortured,” Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA, told Kodao.

Magbanua was referring to the March 3 ambush of four police officers by the NPA at the boundary of Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental and Isabela town in Negros Occidental that injured four soldiers of the 94th Infantry Battalion (94IB) of the Philippine Army.

But Duterte may have been referring to the killing of a paramilitary trooper and two “military informants” last June 13 in Himamaylan City by a partisan unit of the NPA as punishment for their alleged participation in the implementation of the government’s brutal Oplan Sauron counter-insurgency campaign in the island.

The families of those killed said they were killed with guns.

“That razor incident at hostage-taking never happened,” Magbanua added.

Duterte in his recent report on the government’s coronavirus response Monday night again spent a substantial part of his recorded address verbally attacking the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, accusing them of being the country’s biggest terrorist threat.

The president said the NPA had been attacking police officers escorting relief operations by the government.

“Pati nga ‘yung pulis na kasama ng gubyerno na tutulong sa mga tao, pinatay niyo lahat. Tapos, using a Gillette blade (hand moving across throat). Kaya ako galit sa inyo,” Duterte said.

He added that he had no history of maltreating captured NPA fighters in Mindanao.

“There was never a time that we handled an NPA prisoner sa Mindanao na sinaktan namin. We don’t even allow the mosquitoes to bite them. May warning kami sa mga alimatok pati sa mga…ano ba ng alimatok sa Tagalog? Linta. Leech. Na huwag galawin ang mga NPA na bihag dahil baka tayo ang pagbintangan,” he said.

Magbanua however said it is the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that consistently violates International Humanitarian Law through strafing of civilian homes, red-tagging of activists, and physical and mental abuse of detainees.

Marco Valbuena, information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, also said that Duterte is, in fact, the country’s biggest terrorist, using the AFP and the entire State machinery to unleash “wanton terror” in his government’s drug war, massacres, extrajudicial killings, the bombardment of communities in his nearly four years in power. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

CPP orders NPA to shift to ‘offensive posture’ after ceasefire order ends

There is no more ceasefire in effect in the country after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) announced it has decided against re-extending its truce order that expired midnight Thursday.

“The refusal of the Duterte regime to relent in its attacks against the NPA (New People’s Army), despite calls for a ‘global ceasefire’ has made the further extension of the NPA ceasefire impossible,” the CPP said in a statement.

The CPP’s 36-day ceasefire was first declared last March 24 and was extended when it ended last April 15. The government’s first and only ceasefire declaration under the ongoing coronavirus pandemic started last March 19 and ended on April 15.

In a recorded address aired last Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will never be ready for any round of peace talks with the CPP, accusing the NPA of attacking soldiers in Ma. Aurora Town in Aurora Province who were escorting a relief operation connected with the government’s Luzon-wide lockdown.

The CPP however denied the allegation, saying the AFP was in fact conducting a counter-insurgency operation, as it did throughout the ceasefire periods.

“Since Duterte called for a ceasefire on March 16, AFP counterinsurgency operations remain unabated, deploying its units in at least 396 villages in 148 towns, ceaselessly conducting combat operations, aerial bombardments and artillery shelling, aerial surveillance and ground intelligence operations, arresting civilians, and violating people’s rights with impunity,” the CPP said.

The CPP said that in more than a month since both parties declared their unilateral ceasefire orders, the AFP mounted at least 36 raids against NPA encampments in 23 provinces that resulted in at least 11 armed encounters.

The group claimed the AFP suffered at least 56 casualties, 31 of whom were killed in action.

On the part of the NPA, 18 Red fighters were killed while eight were wounded, the CPP reported.

The military operations happened in Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Antique, Bohol, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Iloilo, Lanao del Sur, Masbate, Negros Occidental, Northern Samar, Quezon, Rizal, Samar, Sorsogon, South Cotabato, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur provinces, the group added.

The CPP commended its armed wing for “successfully defending themselves and the masses and thwarting the raids and treacherous attacks mounted by the AFP in their relentless counterinsurgency operations.”

Starting today, Friday, May 1, the CPP has ordered the NPA to shift from “active defense” to an “offensive posture” in anticipation of more attacks against its forces.

‘Offensive posture’

In shifting to an offensive posture, the CPP urged the NPA to be always ready to strike against the AFP, Philippine National Police and the paramilitary forces under the Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit as well as other armed groups of the government.

“The NPA must mount tactical offensives especially against the most notorious human rights violators and those who have subjected people to abuse. The NPA must target the isolated and weak units and detachments of the AFP and its armed auxiliaries,” the CPP ordered.

While getting ready to meet the AFP’s counter-insurgency operations, the CPP also urged the NPA to continue its anti-COVID health services and information drives in various communities. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Church group calls on gov’t to reciprocate CPP’s truce extension

A church-based group asked the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to heed the Easter call of Pope Francis for “an immediate ceasefire in all corners of the world” by reciprocating the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) extension of its truce order.

In a statement, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) also called on the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to open the doors to resume the stalled peace talks “especially in the face of an uncertain future brought about by this Covid-19 pandemic.”

The PEPP said that despite accusations from both side that each has violated their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations that simultaneously expired last before midnight of Wednesday, April 15, it still believes that the ceasefires may lead to “healing” and can only provide a good environment for the unhampered flow of services to the Filipino people during the lockdown.

A reciprocal declaration of truce orders may also pave the way for both side to again engage in “principled dialogue toward lasting peace,” it added.

The PEPP statement, signed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Anglican Bishop Rex Reyes, was issued after the CPP announced its order to extend its unilateral ceasefire declaration to April 30.

The PEPP also volunteered to provide custodial guarantee to vulnerable and elderly prisoners, such as several NDFP consultants, it said should be released on humanitarian grounds as reports of contagion and deaths of detainees have hit various prisons.

“PEPP stands by our longstanding offer to enable and facilitate a conducive atmosphere for restarting the peace talks by providing custodial guarantee through the church network of PEPP should the process of Release on Recognizance be followed in relation to the detained consultants of the NDFP,” it said.

“We call on President Rodrigo Duterte to put a heavy premium on peace and the release on humanitarian grounds the vulnerable during this time of crisis. Today, more than ever—as our nation and the whole world prays for healing—is the time to ‘seek peace and pursue it,” PEPP said, quoting the Bible.

AFP offensives continue

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) however said military offensives against the New People’s Army (NPA) have resumed as of April 16.

AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo told reporters last Friday, April 17, the military offensives shall continue even as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Malacañan Palace’s has yet to react to efforts by Kodao to seek its comment on the CPP’s truce order extension.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison on the hand said he highly appreciates PEPP’s appeal to Duterte to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire order of the CPP to the NPA, to release the political prisoners on recognizance to the church leaders, and to pave the way for the resumption of peace negotiations.

“I hope that Duterte heeds the appeal of the PEPP. The war hawks of the Duterte regime and the military violate Duterte’s own avowal for healing,” Sison said.

He added that the AFP has only shown “their hatred for the people by denying the violations of their own ceasefire and by launching more offensives against the NPA and the people at the time of the Covid-19 contagion. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)