PASIG CITY (23 FEBRUARY 2020)— The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process has vehemently condemned the killing of rebel returnee Antonio Benzon, Jr. by members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. blasted the duplicitous nature of the CPP-NPA, which is carrying out such gruesome attacks but at the same time, is calling for the resumption of peace talks with the government.

“We cannot achieve peace if the other side continues murdering people with impunity. These killings do not achieve anything but perpetuate the cycle of violence,” Galvez said.

Benzon, who had only recently left the communist group and returned to the folds of the law, was shot dead in Barangay Colambis, Casiguran, Sorsogon on February 22, 2020.

The CPP-NPA has claimed responsibility for Benzon’s death.


Black propaganda

According to Galvez, the CPP-NPA’s portrayal of Benzon as a traitor and a criminal is yet another attempt to discredit the government’s “Whole-of-Nation” Approach to end local communist armed conflict.

The Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration program (E-CLIP) and Localized Peace Engagements (LPE) are among the mechanisms being implemented under the Whole-Of-Nation Approach.

Through LPEs, local governments units and other stakeholders in the community take the lead in finding solutions to address the armed rebellion in their areas. Hundreds of CPP-NPA rebels across the country have returned to the folds of the law because of these LPEs

“The government’s multi-pronged response to the communist insurgency is gaining ground. We are showing the rebels, their families and their communities that we are sincere in addressing pressing issues they are confronting,” Galvez said.

“This is why the CPP-NPA leadership is doing everything to picture the government in a bad light. We are rendering the CPP-NPA irrelevant,” Galvez said.

He further challenged the CPP-NPA to substantiate their claims against Benzon, and the other rebel returnees and members of Indigenous Peoples (IP) groups whom they have killed.

“We know that the CPP-NPA organization has a lot of legal fronts. If this is the case, then why don’t these groups just file a case against their former comrades instead of murdering them? The means simply does not justify the ends,” Galvez said.


A spate of violence

Over the past several months, the CPP-NPA has been calling for a resumption of the stalled peace talks. It has even branded the government as among the “peace spoilers” because it will not give in to their unconstitutional preconditions.

And while the communist group was making such calls for peace, its armed wing continued to kill law enforcers and civilians.

On December 15, 2019, around 50 members of the CPP-NPA ambushed a police patrol car in Borongan City, Eastern Samar.

Patrolman Mark Jerome Sugalan Rama, as well as civilians Agripena Avilla Traboco and Anthony Balayanto died during the attack, while 15 others were wounded.

On December 23, 2019, two police officers were injured during an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack in Tubungan, Iloilo, on the eve of the implementation of the holiday truce between the government and the CPP-NPA.

At the start of the new year, the CPP-NPA killed two IP leaders in Mindanao, while a ceasefire agreement between the rebel group and the government was still in effect.

In Cabanglasan, Bukidnon, IP Mandatory Representative Datu Sammy Diwangan was shot dead for his firm opposition to the ongoing recruitment by the CPP-NPA in his area.

In Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, Higaonon tribe leader Bontola T. Mansinugdan was abducted and killed by the rebels. Mansinugdan and his 11 year-old son were out gathering frogs in the Kinabonglohan River for New Year’s Day when the father was murdered.


The cost of peace

Galvez said that there is no rationale behind the killing being committed by the communist insurgents, as he pointed out that there is a wide disconnect between what the communist group is saying and what it is actually doing.

“Are the killings aimed to pressure the government to finally engage the CPP-NPA in peace talks. Because if that is the reason, their methods are entirely flawed as their ideology,” he said.

According to Galvez, the government will strengthen the implementation of policies and programs that will uplift the lives of the people who are affected by the armed rebellion.

“We will continue delivering livelihood and other socio-economic interventions to the people. Violence will never be a valid excuse for taking the lives of others. Clearly, this is not the path towards achieving just and lasting peace,” he said. ###