Letter to Manila Times editor re “NPA injustice in Northern Samar”

TO: Rene Bas
Editor in Chief, Manila Times

Dear Editor:

This is in response to the June 9 column of Marit Stinus-Remonde, "NPA injustice in N. Samar." The column scores the New People's Army for the civilian casualties in its May 30 raid on a military detachment in Catarman, N. Samar. There are also allegations, without any credible proof offered, that the NPA supports illegal loggers and recruits minors.

Stinus-Remonde's column defends and even promotes the dangerous practice by combatants of the Armed Forces of the Philippines of putting their families in their base of operations. Under the laws of war, military camps are legitimate targets for offensive operations by the NPA. It is thus irresponsible and foolhardy for military elements to put their family homes and other civilian facilities inside their camps. Despite being men of arms, they are either too arrogant or too oblivious that they are only putting their loved ones in harm's way. Such conditions will certainly lead to civilian casualties in the heat of battle, as much as the NPA would like to avoid such.

The military is well aware of such risks but refuses to learn and act responsibly. For its part, the NPA strives to avoid the loss of civilian lives and is likely to cease and desist when such an eventuality is discovered. There have been instances in the past when civilians mingled with soldiers in military camps or vehicles, leading to the regretful loss of civilian lives during NPA offensives. The NPA thus warns civilians to stay away from soldiers lest they be harmed, and any offensive is likely to be called off when the risk to civilians is too high. But the AFP troops ignores the laws of war and even strive to preserve their own skin because of the NPA's adherence to these. The NPA observes that it is standard operating procedure for government troops to deliberately camp near civilians or stay directly in their houses, hitch rides on civilian vehicles and force civilians to act as guides or accompany them.

Stinus-Remonde's accusation that the NPA abets illegal logging is also ill-informed. The revolutionary movement has banned widespread commercial logging and mining in Eastern Visayas and the rest of the country. Only small-scale and regulated use is allowed, out of sympathy for the peasants who need firewood, building materials and other means to augment their meager livelihood. If that is illegal logging, that is a far cry from commercial loggers who clear wide swathes of our fast dwindling forest resources to enrich a few big businessmen and politicians.

It is also uncalled for to brand the NPA as recruiting minors. Since 1988, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA have said time and again that 18 is the minimum age for recruitment as an NPA fighter. What is behind all the hullabaloo over NPA "child rebels"? Have any of these been substantiated, has the NPA been held to account by any responsible body? The Philippine government and its supporters have failed to effectively tar the NPA as recruiting minors, or to bring the NPA to the level of rogue African rebel armies who do have child combatants. What is indeed there is nothing more substantial than grist for the propaganda mill of the Philippine government and the AFP.

The NDF-EV won't comment on the children in Samar who according to Stinus-Remonde told a military pilot they would rather join the NPA than fly a helicopter. Perhaps hardscrabble children know more about life and how to better their prospects in it than a Manila Times columnist.

Sincerely,

Fr. SANTIAGO SALAS
Spokesperson in Eastern Visayas
National Democratic of the Philippines

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