President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday personally visited barangays that have been freed from the threat and influence of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Region IV-A to make sure that the programs and projects promised to those villages are being properly implemented.
National Security Adviser and Vice Chairman of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the President’s visit was “to put emphasis on the development programs implemented in support to counter-insurgency operations in the region.”
“There are only three guerilla fronts remaining in Region IV-A, two of which were already considerably weakened by the administration’s security forces,” Esperon said in a statement made available to reporters covering the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, the United Nations’ latest report on human rights which mentioned abuses committed by the NPA boosts the government’s ongoing efforts through the NTF-ELCAC to aggressively address this terror group, the agency said on Wednesday.
This was underscored by Undersecretary Severo Catura, NTF-ELCAC spokesperson on human rights, peace process and international engagement in a virtual forum with members of Filipino communities in Europe.
As NTF-ELCAC chairman, Esperon said President Duterte is set to resume his visit to the different regions to fast-tract the development of the conflict-affected barangays in the country.
Joining President Duterte in his visit to CALABARZON are Quezon Gov. Danilo Suarez Jr., some Cabinet members, NTF-ELCAC officers, and members of Congress.
“As the Vice Chairman of the NTF-ELCAC, it is my honor to convey to the public that the President has emphasized that the key to ending the local communist armed conflict lies in addressing the root causes which entice disgruntled communities into communist terrorism,” Esperon said.
The Barangay Development Program (BDP) is a flagship program of the Duterte administration in which the President enacts his vision that progressive communities arise from a peaceful and stable environment.
“The BDP is the manifestation of our continuous partnership with the LGUs; wherein the NTF-ELCAC facilitates the fast-tracking of local development projects identified by the local chief executives themselves,” Esperon said. In Region 4-A, according to Esperon, after the dismantling of guerilla fronts, there will be a total of 72 projects to be implemented under the BDP in at least 30 barangays.
Esperon added that a total of 35 local government units in Region IV-A have issued their resolutions or statements of support for the 2021 implementation of the BDP.
Under the BDP, every barangay that is New People’s Army-free will be getting P20 million worth of development projects like farm-to-market roads, health centers, school buildings, water sanitation, and livelihood projects.
With P28.1 billion proposed budget for BDP under the 2022 national budget, there will be a total of 1,406 barangays benefitting. This 2021, there are 822 barangays included.
“A strong proponent of local government development, President Duterte has pushed for several development initiatives aimed at poverty alleviation and rural progress. These national development programs for bolstering community-based approaches are the cornerstones of the President’s legacy of inclusive and bottom-up approach in attaining our country’s progress,” Esperon stressed.
“On behalf of the Local Chief Executives, the NTF-ELCAC expresses gratitude to the President for his commitment to provide for the needs identified by our community leaders in their pursuit for growth. The NTF-ELCAC, strives to ensure that no community is left behind in the pursuit towards a progressive Philippines. The BDP is our commitment to Filipinos, notably those in conflict affected barangays, that they are first and foremost in our development agenda,” he added.
Catura explained that these abuses were included in the Oral Report of the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet which was delivered on October 7 at the plenary of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to Catura, the failure of the government to act on these abuses would be a blatant disregard of its human rights obligations. Bachelet revealed that her office “received reports of abuses by the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines, including the killing of civilians, recruitment of children and extortion.”
Catura’s revelation comes in the aftermath of 166 new cases of NPA violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) that were submitted on October 19, 2021, by the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict (AFP-CLOAC) to the Commission on Human Rights for validation.
The 166 new cases include incidents of recruitment and use of child combatants, destruction of privately-owned properties, use of anti-personnel mines (APM), and willful killings.
A total of 1,672 incidents of NPA abuses from 2010 to this year have been unearthed and reported by the AFP-CLOAC. This number includes 544 cases of abduction of children who were forced into becoming child soldiers.
However, Bachelet’s report on NPA abuses is not new, Catura said.
In June 2020, in her report on the ‘Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines,’ Bachelet not only reported the same abuses as brought to her attention by individuals, communities, and human rights defenders, she also recalled that the “United Nations lists NPA among parties that commit grave violations affecting children in situations of armed conflict” based on findings by the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict that “verified the recruitment and use of children by NPA in combat or support roles.”
Bachelet’s 2020 report also mentioned that “80 incidents allegedly perpetrated by the NPA are being examined under Administrative Order No. 35.” The said presidential issuance signed in 2012 created an inter-agency committee to look into cases of alleged extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations to the right to life, liberty and security of persons.
The UN’s 2021 reiteration of these NPA abuses cannot be set aside because of its massive impact on the lives and security of the Filipino people, Catura said. More importantly, it affirms the work of the NTF-ELCAC in putting an end to these abuses.
“I am sure that the UN High Commissioner must have been completely appalled on learning of these atrocities reported to her by human rights defenders and private individuals,” Catura said. “And the sad part,” he added, “is that these atrocities continue.”
On June 3 this year, a passenger bus was torched by the NPA in North Cotabato. Three passengers were trapped and burned to death, while six sustained major burns.
Three days later, in Masbate province, a control-detonated anti-personnel mine planted by the NPA took the lives of 21-year-old national soccer team star Kieth Absalon and his cousin Nolven Absalon who were on a leisurely bike run. Nolven’s son who was with them, 16-year-old Chrisbin Daniel, suffered injuries.
Early this month, ironically coinciding with the global observance of Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) Month, a member of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur, Datu Boy Maca Astudillo, was killed by the NPA in front of his 11-year-old son.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) reported that since last year, the NPA has killed 22 IP members and elders for not supporting their cause.
The NPA, including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been designated by the US State Department, in its Executive Order No. 13224, as a terrorist organization since August 12, 2002.
The US’ designation specifically names CPP founder Jose Maria Sison as a terrorist under the Specially Designated National and Blocked
Persons List (SDN List) of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.
This same designation was updated on October 8, 2021.
In the meantime, the European Union, under EU Council Implementing Regulation No. 138, dated February 5, 2021, has renewed its yearly designation of the NPA and CPP as terrorist organizations.