NPA apologizes to civilian victims, vows to punish members
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The communist New People's Army (NPA) on Thursday, March 6, apologized to civilians hurt by a recent landmine blast conducted by its unit in Davao del Sur and assured them that those responsible will be disciplined.
Ka Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesperson of the NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, said the NPA had committed a lapse in its attack on a convoy of emergency responders on its way to aid wounded soldiers in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, on March 2.
"We are claiming responsibility over the incident for the reason that we believe that medical staff and mobile medical units should not be made targets of any form of attacks and that their protection and security are being guaranteed by International Humanitarian Law," Sanchez said.
On March 2, members of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), Red Cross Davao del Sur Chapter, medics and troops were headed for Sitio Balutakay to evacuate wounded soldiers earlier attacked by the NPA, when a blast ripped through the convoy.
Five PDRRMC members were hurt, one in critical condition.
Sanchez said the NPA regional command is investigating the incident.
"An investigation was already initiated and once the data and evidences have been completed, we are assuring that proper actions will be made and disciplinary action will be imposed against the NPA unit responsible," he said.
Sanchez said the NPA will "review its policies and methods which are guiding the tactical military operations to ensure that these would be strictly observed."
He also said the NPA Regional Command has ordered the delivery of "immediate assistance to the civilian victims for their speedy recovery and so that they can already go back to their jobs."
Sanchez said that based on the NPA's initial assessment, operatives under the Mt. Apo Subregional Command tasked to detonate the explosives "failed to recognize and distinguish the ambulance from its target which are the military trucks."
"The ambulance cannot be recognized; it was not using its siren. It was not even using its headlights following the order of the 39th IB [Infrantry Brigade]. This Army unit used civilian rescuers to collect casualties after they were ambushed and defeated by red guerrillas," he said.
Sanchez said that at 6 pm on March 2 – more than an hour before the blast – the NPA operatives were alerted by the arrival of the two military trucks.
He said the NPA unit did not detonate the explosive after the first truck passed the route of the ambush and "opted to wait and confirm if the second truck is a 6x6 truck."
"When the second truck passed by, the operatives immediately detonated the explosives against the military vehicle. But it is very unfortunate that the ambulance was hit because it was very close to the 6x6 truck," Sanchez said.
The NPA urged civilian authorities, medical and rescue personnel and institutions to "refrain from doing actions and tasks that would create an advantageous position for the military and would put the red fighters in an active defensive position."
"The NPA can only guarantee the absolute protection of medical personnel if they would remain neutral in the armed conflict," Sanchez said.
He said medical personnel and medical vehicles should have "distinct markings" easily recognizable from afar through sirens and proper lights to ensure their protection in conflict areas.
The convoy of medical responders were on its way to aid 11 injured soldiers after a firefight erupted between troops from the 39th Infantry Battalion and members of the NPA in Sitio Don Carlos, Barangay Managa at around 11:30 am on March 2. The communist rebels also used a landmine during the clash.
Sanchez claimed that the Bansalan attacks killed 13 soldiers as well, but Capt. William Rodriguez, spokesperson of the 1002nd Brigade, denied this.
Mum on landmine use
Sanchez was mum on the move of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to denounce the NPA's use of landmines in two separate incidents in Davao del Sur on March 2, which hurt 11 soldiers and 5 civilians.
On March 4, CHR Commissioner Loretta Ann Rosales said the Davao del Sur attacks were in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), signed by the government and the communist insurgents in 1998 that bans the use of landmines.
Colonel Marcos Norman Flores Jr, commander of the Army's 1002nd infantry brigade, had earlier said that the Armed Forces would file the appropriate charges against the NPA for frustrated murder and for violation of the CARHRIHL. – Rappler.com