(New York) – The communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines executed three people in August after unfair trials in so-called People’s Courts, Human Rights Watch said today. The executions of men as “counter-revolutionaries”, in trials that violated international humanitarian lawwas the latest example of what the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, calls “revolutionary justice” meted out to “enemies of the people.”
The NPA sought to justify the executions, which took place in the central Philippines province of Negros Occidental, citing the men’s alleged offenses including espionage for the Philippine military and common crimes such as rape . The armed group also said the allegations against the men had been “submitted to the People’s Court” and held “a thorough investigation and trial”. The group did not provide details of the trials, raising concerns about whether the men attended, were adequately represented or given the opportunity to present a defence.
“The New People’s Army has a long history of executing people following trials that fail to meet even the most basic standards of fairness,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The scant information provided by the armed group on these recent executions suggests that once again the most severe punishments have been inflicted without any respect for the fundamental precepts of international law.
In a statement, Command Roselyn Jean Pelle of the NPA confirmed the execution of Benjamin Javoc, 54, president of the village of Lalong in the town of Calatrava, Negros Occidental, on August 26. and nearby barangays [villages].” They also accused him of “crimes against the people and the revolutionary movement for being a military asset who builds an intelligence network within the barangay”.
On August 12, the group executed Renato Estrebillo, 43, a worker from Calatrava. The group accused Estrebillo of “tipping off” soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion in the province, who then allegedly carried out operations in the same town on July 6. incident. He also alleged that Estrebillo was “known for the theft of agricultural products and animals”.
On August 7, NPA fighters killed Rodel Nobleza, 37, from another village in Calatrava, for allegedly providing information to the military that led to a raid on the town in April 2019 that resulted in the deaths of two NPA members and a civilian. The NPA claimed he was also a drug dealer.
Human Rights Watch sent several emails and messages to the NPA requesting information on the progress of the trials and executions, but received no substantive response. However, media reports which could not be corroborated indicated that the three men were not in NPA custody at the time of their execution, suggesting that they had no defense at their trials. Javoc was reportedly shot in his home, Estrebillo was shot as he left his home and Nobleza was killed after suspected rebels arrested him while he was riding a motorbike with two children.
In December 2021, the same NPA command confirmed the executions of two people accused of providing intelligence to the army. The group executed Ponciano Carbajosa, a former paramilitary from the town of Toboso, on December 14. The day before, the group killed Mariel Encarquez, also from Toboso. “As an active intelligence asset, Encarquez has become a legitimate military target,” the NPA said.
Human Rights Watch has previously exposed unlawful killings and other abuses by the group that violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.
As a party to an internal armed conflict, the NPA is bound by international humanitarian law, including Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Second Additional Protocol of 1977 (Protocol II), to which the Philippines is parts. International humanitarian law prohibits summary executions or ill-treatment of detained civilians or captured combatants, as well as punishment for proceedings that fail to meet international fair trial standards.
Protocol II specifies that the courts responsible for prosecuting criminal offenses related to the armed conflict must be independent and impartial, and that the accused must have “all necessary rights and means of defence”, among other guarantees.
Throughout its 53 years of existence, the NPA has executed many people found “guilty” by its People’s Courts. Many of them were sentenced in absentia, denying them the right to present a defense before an impartial tribunal. The armed group also killed or tortured allegedly traitorous members of the NPA or the Communist Party, particularly during purges in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when hundreds of cadres were accused of being ” deep penetration agents” or spies for the Philippine military.
The provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental have long been hotbeds of communist insurgency in the central Philippines, resulting in a heavy presence of government troops. In recent years, government security forces in these provinces have been linked to several cases of extrajudicial executions targeting left-wing activists and human rights defenders. The Philippine Armed Forces also “red-flagged” a number of people in the area, publicly accusing them of working for or assisting the insurgents, putting them at grave risk of attack.
“The New People’s Army should immediately stop executing people after bogus trials in bogus courts,” Conde said. “The Communist Party should recognize that wanton anarchy and cruelty is no way to win over the Filipino people.”