Kin of blast victims reject NPA apology

File photo of the New People’s Army (NPA) Guerilla Front 21 with their high powered firearms and the communist flag along the mountains of Marihatag town in Surigao del Sur. PHOTO BY ERWIN MASCARIÑAS

Relatives of Kieth Absalon, the university athlete who died in a land mine blast in Masbate City on Sunday, said the apology issued by communist rebels to their family and the public was not enough, as they continued to appeal for justice.

“It is hard to accept. We raised him, he [worked hard] to reach his dreams and [then] he would die just like that,” said Vilma Absalon, Kieth’s mother, after the New People’s Army (NPA) took full responsibility and expressed its “deep remorse” over the explosion.

An improvised explosive device planted by the NPA went off in Barangay Anas on Sunday morning, killing the 21-year-old Kieth, a Far Eastern University football player, and his 40-year-old cousin, Nolven Absalon, a union leader, who were biking in the area.

In a statement on Tuesday, Raymundo Buenfuerza, spokesperson for the NPA’s Romulo Jallores Command operating in the Bicol region, said the detonation of a land mine was a mistake.

Challenge

“We ask for forgiveness to the family and the public,” he said.

But Vilma said in Filipino: “That’s not justice; saying sorry is easy. Attaining justice does not start with saying sorry. Honestly, I want them gone. I want them to disappear and stop their destructive activities.”

She said they would let the government file appropriate cases against the rebels.

Unimpressed by the NPA apology, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año demanded that the group turn over those responsible for the blast so they could be tried in court.

In a statement on Wednesday, Año said, “Now that the Communist Party of the Philippines (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 may be served to their families and loved ones.”

He added, “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.”

Año pointed out that an internal probe by the CPP-NPA cannot be trusted to deliver true justice.

Condemnation

“[The CPP-NPA] can turn over the suspects to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) or to their allies in the Makabayan bloc who are serving in Congress if they prefer so long as they face trial in a court of law,” assuring that the CHR and the Department of the Interior and Local Government will guarantee the suspects’ safety while on trial.

Vice President Leni Robredo on Wednesday condemned the deaths of the Absalons.

“Land mines are murder,” she said in a statement sent to reporters. “This is inhumane. No goal or ideology can justify the use of such devices.”

According to Robredo, the use of such explosive devices has long been prohibited under global agreements, particularly under the Ottawa Treaty, because these weapons have “no place in a civilized society” since these do not distinguish their targets.

Also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, the 1997 Ottawa Treaty aims to eliminate all antipersonnel land mines around the world by banning their use, production, stockpiling and transfer. The Philippines ratified the convention in February 2000. It entered into force in the country in August that year.

“This is a violation of law, of human rights, of the rules of war and of our very understanding of the limits of what a human being can do to his fellow man,” Robredo said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Absalons’ deaths showed the “terrible threat” that such weapons pose to civilians.

“The use of antipersonnel land mines … is a war crime,” said Carlos Conde, HRW senior Philippines researcher. “Those responsible are subject to criminal prosecution not just in the Philippines, but in courts around the world.”Reopen talks

The Makabayan bloc condemned the NPA’s “military action” that killed the Absalons, saying this violated international humanitarian law.

“The Absalons’ deaths and the rising number of violations by the police and military should compel the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to fully reactivate the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and to reopen the formal peace negotiations and to fully address the root causes of the raging armed conflict,” they said in a statement.

The lawmakers representing the party list groups Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, Gabriela and Kabataan said their commitment to human rights “binds us to condemn any and all acts that harm or kill unarmed civilians, noncombatants and protected persons in situations of armed conflict.”

“Even as we condole with the Absalon family, we respectfully urge them to report the tragic incident to the JMC, the body that accepts complaints on the noncompliance by either the CPP-NPA or the government and the military and police on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” they said on Wednesday.

—REPORTS FROM MA. APRIL MIER-MANJARES, MAR S. ARGUELLES, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, JHESSET O. ENANO AND JULIE M. AURELIO

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