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PEACETALK: The Masbate landmining incident three years hence: “One country, two systems” of justice (4)

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Last of four parts

Questions on Revolutionary Justice

Apart from leaning “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about the Masbate landmining incident of 6 June 2021 that might have been helped by “a full and complete investigation” on the CPP-NPA-NDFP side of things, there are questions not only about the outcome, findings and results of that investigation but also about the parameters and process of “revolutionary justice.” The NDFP “asserts its authority and duty to investigate the case… within the NPA command structure and within frameworks of the CPP, NDFP and the People’s Democratic Government,” including its “legal system”… “to fully and completely establish the facts and prepare any appropriate charges before any procedure to prosecute and try the case before the military court of the NPA or people’s court.” Thus, as also an assertion of the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, “it is correct for the people and all other entities to expect” some answers from the NDFP on questions about that incident and about “revolutionary justice. Allow us to for now pose some of these questions:

1. What stage is the NDFP announced asserted investigation of the Masbate Incident of 6 June 2021? Has it started, been completed-concluded, or is still ongoing? When did it start and when was it completed if at all? Is there an available status, progress or final report on this investigation?

2. If the said investigation has not started or been completed, how come, what are the reasons or problems? 

3. If the said investigation has been completed-concluded, what were its findings, conclusion and results? Again, is there an available report or documentation of this? 

4. Has the said investigation answered “certain questions” as assured by the NDFP: “1) If true, which NPA unit and personnel are involved?; 2) Is there no case of the enemy committing the crime and falsely ascribing it to the NPA?; and 3) Is there no local feud involved?”

5. “Within [what] NPA command structure” was the investigation started, conducted and completed if at all? Was it (to be) the NPA-Masbate Jose Rapsing Command (JRC), or the NPA-Bicol Romulo Jallores Command (RJC), or some higher commands of the NPA? Or was it (to be) by the CPP’s Bicol Regional Party Committee or Masbate Provincial Party Committee? Which is which?

6. Were “any appropriate charges made”? What charges and against whom (at least which NPA unit did they belong to)? Was the case (to be) prosecuted and tried before “the military court of the NPA or people’s court”? Were “certain individuals” held liable either after investigation or after trial? Are there available papers or records of the charges, proceedings and judgment?

7. What specific parts or aspects of the “frameworks of the CPP, NDFP and the People’s Democratic Government” and provisions of the “legal system of the People’s Democratic Government” were the basis of and guidance for the investigation, the charges, the trial and the judgment if at all? What particular criminal law and procedure of the “legal system of the People’s Democratic Government” was (to be) applied?

8. Whether or not the case was actually tried either “before the military court of the NPA or people’s court,” what is different if at all between the jurisdictions or coverages of these two courts in terms of cases or crimes charged as well as in terms of the accused, such as whether NPA or non-NPA elements? Either way, what are the measures, mechanisms or rules for procedural fairness and for evidence credibility weighing in these two kinds of courts?

9. Was there (to be) any independent observation by any neutral, impartial and competent entity or persons during the investigation and/or trial proceedings? What organizations if any did the independent observers belong to or represent?

10. Has there been any CPP, NPA or NDFP reparation or indemnification provided or offered to the families of the three Absalon victims?

The NDFP leadership, which has “assert[ed] its authority and duty to investigate the case” of the Masbate landmining incident of 6 June 2021, has not responded (as in dedma) to questions such as these aired from time to time for about three years already, especially on the occasion of its anniversary. What we said on this one year ago for its second anniversary is thus unfortunately still applicable:

Nothing but dedma has been heard from the CPP-NPA-NDFP since then on the Masbate landmining incident. To ask again whatever happened to their promised investigation thereof, is like speaking to a wall or to the wind. One cannot but think how this continuing silence instead speaks volumes about the CPP-NPA-NDFP sense of transparency, accountability and justice, or lack of it. What is at stake here is not only primarily the justice that the Absalon family cries for, but also the consequential credibility of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and their so-called “revolutionary justice” system. This system will also be judged by at least the minimum judicial standards applicable to the prosecution and punishment of criminal offenses related to the armed conflict per the 1977 Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions which the CPP-NPA-NDFP avow adherence to… It is correct for the people to expect knowing more about this system being the harbinger of an offered alternative future. Can this system render justice? Can it be trusted to render justice? Is it revolutionary justice or “revolutionary” impunity?

Is it a better, including speedier, alternative to the admittedly slow, flawed and skewed-for-the-rich Philippine justice system? Does it represent a better alternative to the current ruling system characterized by social injustice? In practice, not in theory. In its present conduct, not in its promised future. If the promised “principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict” is not viably forthcoming yet or at all, “the long war in the Philippine countryside” may eventually have to be decided by force. Hopefully not so much by the force of arms as rather better by the force of the better argument or idea as shown in conduct and in practice. The hope also is that the people, including “the masses,” would know well enough when the crucial time may come to make the right choice for the country’s course, which is or should not be limited to only two choices. This too has bearing on the continuing quest for justice one way or the other around the Masbate landmining incident of 6 June 2021, and for that matter many other incidents related to the local communist armed conflict, that cannot seem to rest yet in genuine peace and calm.  

(SOLIMAN M. SANTOS JR. is a retired RTC Judge of Naga City, Camarines Sur, serving in the judiciary there from 2010 to 2022. He has an A.B. in History cum laude from U.P. in 1975, a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) in Naga City in 1982, and a Master of Laws from the University of Melbourne in 2000. He is a long-time human rights and international humanitarian lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer; and author of a number of books, including on the Moro and Communist fronts of war and peace. Among his authored books are The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process published by UP Press in 2001; Judicial Activist: The Work of a Judge in the RTC of Naga City published by Central Books in 2023; and his latest, Tigaon 1969: Untold Stories of the CPP-NPA, KM and SDK published by Ateneo Press in 2023.)

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