Communist rebels who were behind the bomb attack in Masbate using an improvised explosive device (IED) planted on the ground committed a war crime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday.
HRW senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde, in a statement, said the use of anti-personnel landmines is prohibited in the Philippines under the Mine Ban Treaty and is considered a war crime.
"The killing of a labor leader and a football player by an IED planted by the New People’s Army shows the terrible threat such weapons pose to all civilians,” Conde said. “Those responsible are subject to criminal prosecution not just in the Philippines but in courts around the world.”
College football player Kieth Absalon, 21, and his relative Nolven, 40, were killed in the bomb and gun attack carried out by the NPA on Sunday.
Nolven’s 16-year-old son also suffered injuries from the explosion.
The Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, on Tuesday took "full responsibility" for the IED blast in Masbate City last Sunday.
The CPP in a statement expressed their "deep remorse", saying the incident was a result of "errors in the military action mounted by an NPA unit in Barangay Anas."
"The entire CPP and NPA take full responsibility for the tragedy.
There is no justification for the aggravation this has caused the Absalon family," the communist group said.
Meanwhile, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia condemned the attack.
“The use of anti-personnel landmines is a violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL),” De Guia said in a statement.
“Not only do they cause exceptionally severe injuries, suffering, and death, [but] anti-personnel landmines also fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants, such as what happened in this case,” she said.
She said that even non-state entities such as the NPA “are bound to respect IHL, alongside the government.”
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) both have announced that they were conducting a manhunt for the suspects behind the blast.
On Tuesday, three alleged members of the NPA who were suspects in the bomb attack were killed during pursuit operations conducted by government forces.
According to Absalon’s death certificate, he and his cousin died not just from the landmine explosion but from gunshot wounds.
ABS-CBN, which obtained a copy of the death certificate, said the place of death was listed as Barangay Anas, Masbate, the site where the IED planted by communist rebels exploded Sunday morning.
A police report also cited a witness who said that the explosion was "followed by a series of gunshots targeting victims namely Nolven Absalon and [Kieth] Absalon who sustained...injuries caused by the explosions and gunshot wound[s]."
Authorities earlier said the New People's Army planted the IED that went off while the victims were cycling in the area, supposedly heading to their relatives in Barangay B. Titong.
The family of Kieth earlier said they believed the victims were shot.
The CPP said the deaths of Kieth and Nolven Absalon "should not have happened" and added that it is conducting an internal investigation of the incident.
Vice President Leni Robredo said the use of landmines constitutes murder and condemned the rebels use of the IED that killed Absalon and his cousin.
An international treaty bans the use of landmines that cause indiscriminate killings, Robredo said.
“This is inhumane. No goal or ideology can justify the use of such devices," Robredo said in a statement.
Kieth Absalon was a former UAAP juniors Most Valuable Player.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Wednesday called for peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines after the deadly landmine attack by rebels in Masbate City.
In a statement, Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes pointed out that peace talks can lead to a just and lasting peace in the country if the cause of the armed conflict is addressed.
“The tragic deaths in Masbate are a reminder of the existing armed conflict in the country and the need to pursue peace negotiations as a means to end the fighting,” he said.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government on Wednesday urged the CCP and NPA to turn over those responsible for the murder of Absalon and his cousin, so that they may face trial for their crimes.
“Now that the CPP/NPA has accepted full responsibility for the senseless murder, it now becomes their duty to turn over the terrorists responsible for the deaths so that justice maybe served to their families and loved ones,” Secretary Eduardo Año said.
He said it was not enough that they took responsibility for the attack.
“The ends of justice require that those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes against the people under the laws of the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.
The public could never trust the supposed internal probe to be conducted by the CPP/NPA because they do not adhere to established rules of procedure and that they have their own brand of revolutionary justice, he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) commended military and police personnel in Southern Luzon for the successful operation that neutralized three NPA terrorists behind the Masbate attack.
AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said soldiers and police seized three M-16 rifles and an M-14 after the rebels fled in different directions following a 15-minute firefight.
"Twelve more rifles were confiscated after civilians who have long been pestered by NPA terrorists masquerading as 'protectors of the people' tipped off the location to the authorities," AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
He also assured relatives of the victims that the AFP would pursue the fleeing rebels until they are “removed from all communities and brought to justice.”
A lawyers’ group on Wednesday asked the government to make sure that those behind the Masbate attack be brought to justice.
Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno condemned the incident.
“Heartbreaking to see the lives of young Filipinos cut short because of senseless violence,” Diokno said, in a statement.
“These landmines, allegedly detonated by the NPA (New People’s Army), violate International Humanitarian Law,” Diokno added. “I hope those behind this incident will be brought to justice.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said those responsible for the landmine explosion may be held liable for murder, violation of the Anti-Terrorism Law, and violation of the Philippine Act on crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide, and other crimes against humanity.
The Commission on Human Rights earlier said that it will conduct its own separate investigation over the incident.
The leftist Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives on Wednesday urged the Absalon family to file a complaint before the Joint Monitoring Committee over their deaths.
At the same time, the bloc condemned the “military action” of a unit of the New People’s Army that led to the incident even as they extended sympathies to the Absalons.