MANILA, Philippines — Military and police units have been sent to go after a group of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, which allegedly opened fire at the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona, wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, and killed two of her aides.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) condemned the attack, saying the attack was another “proof of the NPA’s criminal nature.”
“They are no different from other partisan armed groups and criminals that consistently break the law and hamper far-flung communities’ growth and development,” the AFP spokesperson, Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., said in a statement.
(The National Democratic Front in Mindanao has denied planning an ambush on Guingona’s group, saying that when they blocked Guingona’s convoy, they had just wanted to disarm the group and talk to the mayor for not seeking their permission to campaign in areas being claimed by the NPA as under their control. The NDF claimed that the Guingona convoy decided to ram through the roadblock, prompting the NPA to fire.)
Burgos said that while the communist rebels have been projecting themselves as “a pro-people armed group, their actions reflect their continuous violence and consistent disrespect of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
“Their actions vehemently disrespect and violate the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law to which they are signatories,” he said.
The military official said the insurgents also violated Republic Act 9851, otherwise known as the “Act defining and penalizing crimes against International Humanitarian Law, genocide and other crimes against humanity.”
Burgos said elements of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion, headed by Lt. Col Evan Bermudo, have been tapped to lead the joint military and police pursuit operations against the NPA rebels who carried out the “ambush.”
Last year, he said the communist insurgents killed a total of 53 civilians. He also noted that the NPAs gunned down eight civilians and a policeman in an ambuscade in Negros Occidental early this year.
“The AFP offers its sympathies to the families of the victims. The military would like to assure our citizens that the troops in the area will strictly follow the rules of engagement and will respect and promote human rights in pursuit of the perpetrators of this attack,” Burgos said.
“The AFP also hopes that the collective call for justice of our peace-loving people compel them to surrender and adhere to the rule of law.”
Burgos said Mayor Guingona and her group were returning to the city proper of Gingoog on Saturday night when NPA rebels waylaid their convoy.
He said the mayor survived the ambush, but sustained gunshot wounds. A policeman and another civilian bodyguard were also wounded. She was immediately brought to the Sanitarium Hospital in Gingoog and was later flown to a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday, aboard a UH-1H Huey helicopter.
Her driver and a bodyguard were killed in the attack, Burgos said.
He said the mayor had attended a village fiesta in Barangay Upper Kapitulangan before the attack.
“This is contrary to claims (of) the NPA that she was campaigning in the area. Mayor Guingona is not a candidate in the coming… elections,” Burgos said.