'Vaccine shots, not gunshots': Judge calls for ceasefire between gov't, Reds after Masbate blast

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Posted at Jun 11 2021 10:14 AM | Updated as of Jun 11 2021 02:52 PM

President Duterte greets one of the surrenderees during the decommissioning of firearms and forces of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade at the Camp General Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz on Sept. 19, 2019. The group, a breakaway faction of the communist (NPA) New People’s Army, signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2000. Albert Alcain, Presidential Photos/File

MANILA (UPDATE) - A judge is calling for a ceasefire between state forces and communist rebels following a landmine explosion in Masbate last week that killed a union leader and football player.

"I'm personally calling for a ceasefire while we have this pandemic, even if the peace talks have collapsed," Naga City RTC Branch 61 Judge Soliman Santos Jr. told ANC's "Rundown".

"Let's have vaccine shots and not gunshots. In fact, maybe we can extend the vaccination to the mass base or guerrilla zones of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front)," he added.

For the judge, no one is safe until everyone gets inoculated against the respiratory illness.

"Maybe, those in power on both sides can give some consideration to this call as one way of learning from this sad experience of the Masbate incident victimizing the Absalon family," added Santos, who is also an editorial board member of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Union leader Nolven Absalon and football player Kieth Absalon were riding their bikes along Purok 4, Barangay Anas in Masbate City when an improvised explosive device detonated early Sunday, authorities said. Only Nolven's son, who was with them at the time, survived the incident.

Nolven was the leader of the Masbate Electric Cooperative Employees Union, according to labor group Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa.

Kieth played for the Malaya Football Club and the Far Eastern University football team.

The CPP-NPA has since taken "full responsibility" for the blast, saying the incident was a result of "errors in the military action mounted by an NPA unit in Barangay Anas."

'WAR CRIME'

While he's calling for truce amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Santos challenged the communist rebels to provide justice to the victims.

"For me, I would challenge them to show whether their system of revolutionary justice will provide justice to the Absalons -- the victims of their military action, which by the way appears to include use of gunfire based on reports," he said.

The judge stressed that the use of anti-personnel landmines is considered a war crime.

"Whether the anti-personnel landmine used in the Masbate incident was victim-activated or command-detonated, there's a violation," he said.

Victim-activated landmines is prohibited under the 1997 Ottawa Treaty or the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

The 1996 Amended Protocol 2 of the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention, meanwhile, bans command-detonated landlines directed against civilians.

In the Philippines, employing means of warfare, which are prohibited under international law, is considered a war crime under Republic Act 9851 or Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

In December, President Rodrigo Duterte announced there would no more ceasefire between the government and communist rebels until the end of his term in 2022.

"There will be no ceasefire ever again under my term, term ko sa pagkapresidente. For all intents and purposes, 'yung ceasefire is dead. Wala na 'yun, matagal na 'yun," he said.

(There will be no ceasefire ever again under my term, my term as president. For all intents and purposes, the ceasefire is dead. It's long gone.)

In March, the Philippine government and CPP declared truce due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceasefire ended on April 30.