April 25, 2013

Gingoog misencounter

There can be no ifs and buts about it.  The bloody incident in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental last Saturday, wherein police escorts of Mayor Ruth Guingona exchanged fire with a New People’s Army unit manning a checkpoint, resulting in the deaths of two civilian aides and the wounding of three others including the mayor herself, is deplorable and must be thoroughly investigated.

The NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Command (NCMRC) and the NDFP Spokesperson for Mindanao quickly owned up to the “unfortunate incident”, publicly apologized to the Guingona family and the families of the other victims and offered indemnification and assistance.  The NPA prides itself in adhering strictly to its Basic Rules of Discipline, to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and to other instruments and norms of international humanitarian law especially the protection of civilians and non-combatants in armed conflict.

But they corrected initial media reports that it was an “ambush” or that Mayor Guingona was targeted by the NPA.  The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which leads the NPA, stated that “the Guingonas command deep respect among the revolutionary forces, especially the former Vice President who is known for his lifelong record of patriotism and defense of democracy and human rights.”

According to the NCMRC, the NPA unit was carrying out orders in accordance with revolutionary policy  regarding the upcoming May elections; that is, “to flag down candidates and campaigners who carry firearms and armed escorts during their campaign sorties in guerrilla zones when doing their campaign rounds without proper coordination.”  Mrs. Guingona’s campaigners had previously been held at such checkpoints without incident, the policy explained to them and subsequent efforts were made to inform the mayor directly of such a policy.

The NCRMC explains that the firefight broke out when the lead vehicle of the mayor’s convoy tried to ram the bamboo roadblock and fired at the NPA fighters flagging down the convoy, forcing the NPA to fire back in self-defense.

Nonetheless, the NPA Command said they are “deeply saddened” and “take responsibility” for the incident. From this pronouncement it can be deduced that an internal investigation will take place to determine what went wrong, who is accountable and what corrective measures are in order.  Related CPP and NDFP statements remind the NPA to strictly observe policies, procedures and measures that ensure the safety of civilians, employ its wide range of tactics and use force judiciously in enforcing the revolutionary movement's policies.

For its part, the military through Brig. Gen. Rolando Jungco, commander of the Armed Forces Civil Relations Service, called the incident an "act of terrorism". He said the ambush was "a desperate act" by the NPA; allegedly the latter, failing to collect a “permit-to-campaign” fee from Mayor Guingona, “wanted her dead.”

This brings us to the crux of the matter: the whys and wherefores of the CPP-NPA-NDFP policy covering the electoral period.

According to the CPP-NPA statement of 17 February 2013 titled “Abide by people's government guidelines regarding election campaigns”, candidates and their followers will be allowed to campaign in areas where the revolutionary movement holds sway so long as they 1) do not bring in private armed security or police, military and paramilitary escorts; 2) do not intimidate, threaten, or coerce the people or employ violence against their opposing camp; and 3) do not conduct vote-buying activities or bribe community leaders in exchange for votes.

Furthermore, “(t)he People’s Democratic Government reserves the right to restrict the entry of candidates who are guilty of serious crimes against the people and the revolutionary movement” and  “who use the election campaign to facilitate the entry of military and police intelligence agents... in areas under the jurisdiction of the revolutionary authorities.”

The guidelines are based on the premise that the electoral exercise under the current system is not genuinely democratic.  These are merely occasions whereby different factions of the ruling elite vie for elective positions at different levels of government utilizing the advantages of “guns, goons and gold”.

The few qualified, patriotic and pro-people candidates are overwhelmed by the inherent advantages of the moneyed, the entrenched political dynasties and those backed-up by private armies and state security forces.  The voting population is to be bribed, bamboozled or coerced by violently competing camps whose qualifications are indistinguishable or non-existent and whose platforms are full of hot air and empty promises.

But more controversially, the guidelines set down by the CPP-NPA-NDFP are a clear assertion of the revolutionary movement’s political authority based on the strength of its armed forces and the extent and solidity of its mass support in the countryside. Little wonder then that the reactionaries, especially the AFP, misrepresent these policies as mere show of force and worse, as attempts at "extortion" from the candidates.

In its latest statement, the CPP leadership and the NPA Command have reiterated that the NPA shall continue to enforce the prohibition against the bearing of arms by politicians and their retinue in their areas, albeit with the proper measures to ensure the safety of civilians and prevent the recurrence of the Gingoog firefight.

Politicians on the campaign trail are reminded that proper coordination with the NPA commands or local NDFP forces are the best guarantee of their safety in areas controlled by the revolutionary movement.

According to the CPP statement, most candidates participating in the elections in these areas throughout the country concur with and observe these policies, thus preventing unnecessary bloodshed and destruction of property.

President Noynoy Aquino’s kneejerk order to the AFP and PNP to dismantle all NPA checkpoints and punish the NPA unit involved in the Gingoog clash appears at this point to be all bluster.

In contrast, Mayor Ruthie Guingona's family, notably former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. and  Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, displayed exceptional statesmanship and broadmindedness in rising above personal pain and adversity and underscoring  the need to resume peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in order to find a negotiated solution to the armed conflict.

As the peace advocates’ alliance, Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, put it: “(T) he said armed confrontation between the police bodyguards and the NPA reflects the reality of elections happening in the midst of the ongoing internal armed conflict in the country. The inherent nature of elections as gun-wielding and the inherent nature of revolutionary movements as armed in the assertion of their political territories, are bound to cross paths.”

Sowing the Seeds reiterates the call and hope of many Filipinos that the GPH-NDFP peace talks be put back on track and negotiations on social, economic and political reforms begun in earnest, so that the underlying causes of unpeace may finally be reckoned with. #

Published in Business World
26-27 April 2013


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