Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the reported execution of three civilians by communist rebels in the Philippines last August, calling it a “violation” of international humanitarian law.
“The New People’s Army (NPA) has a long history of executing people following trials that don’t meet the most basic standards of fairness,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch.
He said the “sparse information” provided by the armed group about the executions “suggests that once again, the most severe punishments were inflicted without any regard for fundamental precepts of international law.”
The international human rights group reported on Monday the NPA executions, calling it as the “latest instance” of what the rebel group calls “revolutionary justice” meted out against “enemies of the people.”
HRW said the NPA sought to justify the executions, which occurred in the Negros Occidental province, by citing the men’s alleged offenses, including spying for the Philippine military and common crimes such as rape.
The armed group said that the allegations against the men were “submitted before the people’s court” and that it held an “in-depth investigation and trial.”
The NPA, however, did not provide details about the trials, raising concerns about whether the men were present, were provided adequate representation, or had an opportunity to present a defense, said HRW.
In a statement quoted by the HRW statement, the NPA reportedly confirmed the execution of Benjamin Javoc, 54, chairman of the Lalong village in the town of Calatrava, Negros Occidental, on August 26.
The rebel group claimed that Javoc was “notorious for protecting drug dealings within and nearby barangays [villages].” They also accused him of “crimes against the people and the revolutionary movement for being an active military asset mounting intelligence network within the barangay.”
On August 12, the group executed Renato Estrebillo, 43, a laborer from Calatrava. The group accused Estrebillo of “tipping off” soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion in the province, which then allegedly conducted operations in the same town on July 6.
The NPA said that two children were injured and one civilian was arbitrarily arrested during the incident. It also alleged that Estrebillo was “notorious for theft of farm products and animals.”
On August 7, NPA fighters killed Rodel Nobleza, 37, from another village in Calatrava, for allegedly providing information to the army 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.
HRW said it sent several emails and messages to the NPA requesting information about the conduct of the trials and executions, but received no substantive response.
Media reports that could not be corroborated indicated that the three men were not in NPA custody at the time of their executions, suggesting that they had no defense at their trials.
Javoc reportedly was shot in his home, Estrebillo was shot as he was stepping out of his house, and Nobleza was killed after alleged rebels stopped him while riding a motorcycle with two children.
In December 2021, the same NPA command confirmed the executions of two people they accused of providing intelligence to the army.
The group executed Ponciano Carbajosa, a former paramilitary member from Toboso town, on December 14. The previous day, the group killed Mariel Encarquez, also from Toboso. “Being an active intelligence asset, Encarquez became a legitimate military target,” the NPA stated in a statement quoted by HRW.
HRW has previously denounced unlawful killings and other abuses by the NPA that “violate international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.”
The human rights group said that as a party to an internal armed conflict, the NPA is obligated to abide by international humanitarian law, including common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Second Additional Protocol of 1977 (Protocol II), to which the Philippines is party.
International humanitarian law prohibits the summary killing or mistreatment of civilians in custody or captured combatants, and punishments after proceedings that do not meet international fair trial standards.
Protocol II specifies that courts prosecuting criminal offenses related to the armed conflict must be independent and impartial, and the accused shall have “all necessary rights and means of defense,” among other guarantees.
“The [NPA] should immediately stop executing people after phony trials by phony courts,” Conde said in a statement.
“The Communist Party should recognize that wanton lawlessness and cruelty is no way to win over the Filipino people,” he added.