BY JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The New People’s Army, the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has admitted responsibility and mistake over the grenade throwing incident in Paquibato.
In a statement e-mailed to the media Friday and signed by Rigoberto F. Sanchez, spokesperson of the Merardo Arce Command-Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command of the New People’s Army (MAC- SMROC-NPA), the NPA said “it takes full responsibility for the incident” and apologizes “to the public and the families for the scores of casualties, including children.”
A grenade exploded on September 1 between the mini-gymnasium and the old barangay hall of Fatima, Paquibato District which has been converted by the military under the Charlie Company of the 69th Infantry Battallion as their detachment. The detachment’s distance to the gymnasium is just about two meters. The grenade exploded on a night of a circus show which was part of the village fiesta celebration.
Sanchez said the NPA’s 1st Pulang Bagani Command targeted the military detachment to “emasculate the enemy and wipe out its structure that has placed the lives and properties of the people in danger” but it admitted they made a mistake “in considering the circumstances, combat intelligence and all pertinent operational information in instigating the action.”
The NPA calls the action “a gross mistake in judgment” vowing, they will “take concrete measures to indemnify the victims.”
Sanchez further said the NPA is currently initiating an internal investigation “and is ready to take appropriate courses of action, to include among others, disciplinary action on the responsible unit.”
The incident drew attention to the danger posed by the encampment of military troops in civilian places.
Human rights groups have long demanded an end to this practice, but only when the September 1 incident took place did authorities like Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte issue a call for the military to stop encamping right smack in the middle of communities.
The military maintains that they need to stay in the communities as part of their goal of winning hearts and minds of people under their “Peace and Development Outreach Program” (PDOP).
However, human rights groups are saying that this same strategy of the Philippine Army of staying close to the civilian populace has resulted to more human rights violations committed against residents in the communities of their operations.
Reverend Jurie Jayme of Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Karapatan, said by staying close to the community, the military sacrifices the safety of the civilians as they use them as their shields against possible attacks from enemies. This, he said, is a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Laws governing armed conflicts.
The military’s practice of staying in communities, either in schools or near village halls right in the middle of the community is widespread, not only in Paquibato, but elsewhere in Davao Region where the military declares as its targets in ending insurgency.
Despite the incident, Col. Lyndon Paniza, spokesperson of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, over a radio interview, has not made a categorical declaration that they are going to pull-out their troops that are stationed amid communities.
Paniza maintained that they are there to keep “peace and order.” (With reports from Ron C. Clarion)