The Army's 3 rd Infantry Division yesterday dismissed as “desperate diversionary tactics” the justification by the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the New People's Army, that the killing of eight civilians and a policeman in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana on January 27 last year, was a legitimate ambush, and not a massacre.
Juanito Magbanua II, spokesman of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command, said in a statement it issued to the media, that, based on their investigations, it was a legitimate military action of the NPA against legitimate military targets, Philippine National Police and paramilitary men, including the armed Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team members.
Magbanua also said that it is the concept and principled stand of the NPA not to harm civilians and the fact that they had hitched a ride on board was a failure of intelligence, lax discipline and violation of strict centralism of the CPP and rules of its guerilla unit, the NPA, and primarily warrants only administrative discipline.
Maj. Rey Tiongson, 3ID spokesperson, said the justification made by the NPA aims to clean their name, and escape from their guilt.
“In the end, the fact remains that they have killed civilians, including those who pleaded for their lives”, Tiongson said.
During the first anniversary of the La Castellana massacre on Jan. 27, the Diocese of Kabankalan, in a strongly-worded statement signed by Bishop Patricio Buzon, said “The merciless and treacherous killings of civilians, the random firing at innocent passengers and hitch-hikers that wounded many of them, the unimaginable grief of losing loved ones and bread winner of poor families, and the fear and terror which traumatize persons and communities, are inhuman, evil and detestable. They are downright unjustifiable”.
Magbanua said the NPA has no intention to make force multipliers their targets. But since they were armed and in the company of the police, they became paramilitary men and legitimate targets of military action, he added.
Col. Jon Aying, 303 rd Infantry Brigade commander, however, said “Nobody believes these people”, apparently referring to the NPA. “The People's verdict is clear. They are guilty of this criminal act”, Aying said.
Magbanua said the two civilians, a woman and the driver, who were among those killed, ended as “collateral damage”. He, however, insisted that the NPA has no criminal liability for the incident, and therefore, it is not under obligation to provide indemnification to the victims.
Nine counts of murder have been filed by the police against the rebel suspects.
"There was also no need to set up a special military court by the NPA to tackle the alleged culpability of the squad that carried out the ambush," Magbanua added.
He also said that the charges could well be tackled and was decided administratively by the Negros Island Party Committee and its military arm, the NPA command in the Negros Island front.
Bishop Buzon, had arlier said in a statement that the CPP-NPA, the group that prides itself as the champion of justice and human rights, publicly admitted responsibility for these killings, with distortion of facts, a bundle of justifications and promises of indemnification, which were meant to sanitize the barbarity of the act and impress the world of the group's faithful adherence to agreements it signed with the government.
He challenged the CPP-NPA to rummage through their ideological aarsenal and see if extermination is a merited penalty for civilians and innocent people whose only crime was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. *GPB