Masbate clashes: When propaganda war eclipses battle outcomes | Inquirer News

Masbate clashes: When propaganda war eclipses battle outcomes

Composite image of NPA rebels firing guns with Masbate map. STORY: Masbate clashes: When propaganda war eclipses battle outcomes


The past week has seen a new set of incidents of the local communist armed conflict in Masbate province.

This refers to the armed hostilities starting March 20 between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Philippine Army/Philippine National Police involving the use of explosive weapons near several countryside public elementary and secondary schools that have traumatized students and teachers in the municipalities of Dimasalang, Placer, Cawayan, Esperanza, Cataingan, Uson and Pio V. Corpuz.


News reports indicate at least 55,199 students, 2,815 teachers, and 140 schools were constrained to shift their classes from in-person to modular distance learning to ensure their safety from the crossfire and cross-explosions.

The NPA has admitted to launching coordinated harassment operations in Placer and Dimasalang in commemoration of the NPA’s 54th anniversary on March 29, as well as undertaking a successful active defense maneuver in Cawayan.


The latter incident resulted in the NPA killing of Cpl. Antonio Parreno Jr. of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion, among several Army and PNP casualties claimed by the NPA-Masbate Jose Rapsing Command.

Truth as first casualty

The Army has accused the NPA of detonating improvised explosive devices near populated areas such as schools. The NPA says its tactical offensives were of some distance to the schools. It has instead accused the soldiers of retreating to those school grounds (thereby using the schoolchildren as human shields) and indiscriminately firing their weapons including a rifle grenade on those grounds.

The propaganda war by both sides continues to intensify parallel to their armed hostilities. They cannot be relied on for the truth because this is the proverbial first casualty in war, where propaganda has become even more important than the actual military score. Ordinarily, this would be an occasion for some sectors to call for resumption of peace negotiations (but conspicuously not also calling for an accompanying ceasefire) between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military arm the NPA.

Time to get real

But we have to get real. At this point, both sides simply do not want peace talks, much less a ceasefire. The new Masbate incidents are the best evidence of this. Both sides believe (or say) that they are winning their war. The problem is that this could go on for another 54 years. But at what cost to the country and to the people purportedly being served? What then is to be done in a situation of continuing local communist armed conflict?

Okay, continue fighting if you have to. But do so “in good faith” avowed compliance with the rules of war or international humanitarian law (IHL), “to ensure the protection of noncombatants and reduce the impact of the armed conflict on communities found in conflict areas.”

Following the rules of war is one of the paths to peace, because it somehow helps build trust, confidence and goodwill as well as helps “create a favorable climate for peace negotiations” when the conditions and time for this comes.

After all, both sides already have common ground in their avowed adherence to IHL and even human rights. Not only are there the international treaties, instruments and customary rules of IHL and human rights that bind both sides, but there is also their own 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). This instrument has several provisions particularly relevant to the new Masbate incidents.


Thus, the CARHRIHL provides in Part III, Article 2, No. 15: “The right [of the people] not to be subjected to forced evacuations, food and other forms of economic blockades and indiscriminate bombings, shellings, strafing, gunfire and the use of landmines.”

Further relevant to the new Masbate incidents is Republic Act No. 11188, the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act, which took effect in early 2019. It also specifically prohibits “attacks on schools” as among Grave Child Rights Violations.

FEU athlete’s case

In short, there are enough rules of war to comply with but unfortunately the track record of both sides in dealing with IHL and human rights violations of their own side and of the other side does not inspire confidence. This is because such violations have become the grist for a primordial propaganda war waged by the partisans of both sides.

On one hand, the government has prosecuted cases for violation of RA 9851 (the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity) only against various rebels but not against its own soldiers in its legal offensive that partakes of weaponizing the law.

On the other hand, the CPP-NPA-NDFP has not kept some notable promises of investigating, prosecuting and trying its own forces for possible, even admitted, violations.

On June 11, 2021, the NDFP through no less than its leading personalities, Luis Jalandoni and Julieta de Lima (now widow of the late Jose Maria Sison), “assert[ed] its authority and duty to investigate” the NPA-admitted Masbate landmining incident of June 6, 2021, that resulted in the killing (2) and wounding (1) of three Absalon family members, notably the killed Far Eastern University (FEU) varsity football player Kieth Absalon. It is now more than one year and nine months since then but there has been no publicly revealed CPP-NPA-NDFP investigation report or result thereof.

Hollow promises

Instead, now come the new Masbate incidents. The NPA-Masbate has said that it is “ready to investigate, take responsibility and criticize itself if there is an error.” This sounds somewhat hollow, given that nothing appears to have come out of the NDFP’s promised investigation of the earlier June 6, 2021, incident.

Because the warring parties cannot be trusted to honestly deal with IHL and human rights violations, even in their simple reporting and initial investigation, it is crucial that independent, competent and credible mechanisms for this purpose are developed and supported.

Of course, the International Committee of the Red Cross is there as one independent, competent and credible mechanism but it has its own constraints with confidentiality and publicity protocols.

One possible mechanism or model is the however still unimplemented 2021 Memorandum of Understanding between the Commission on Human Rights and the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines to address the issue of explosive weapons (not just landmines) involving both state actors and non-state armed groups through humanitarian action, such as verification missions and other mine action (explosive ordnance education, relevant IHL and human rights education, capacity-building, research and advocacy). Independent civil society has both a stake and an important role to play when it comes to the country’s matters of war and peace.

* * *

Editor’s Note: The author is a retired judge of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Camarines Sur, a longtime human rights and IHL lawyer as well as a peace advocate on both the communist and Moro fronts, and author of several books, including “How do you solve a problem like the GRP-NDFP peace process? Part 2 [2022]” published by Sulong Peace Inc., Quezon City.)


Army describes as fake news NPA report that 4 gov’t forces die in Masbate

Marcos orders more cops posted in Masbate schools

Fear over Masbate fighting affects classes of 55,000 students

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Masbate Army-NPA clashes, New People's Army, Philippine Army
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

News that matters

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.