The ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) unit on the convoy of Gingoog City Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona last April 20, 2013 deserves universal condemnation. This attack is only the latest of the series of attacks on civilian targets by this armed group in recent weeks. The Mindanao National Democratic Front (NDF-Mindanao) blamed the mayor for traveling in armed company and defying the NPA “checkpoint.” This backhanded apology only underlines the obvious—it was a premeditated act with full knowledge of the target.
The facts of the incident showed that the Gingoog city mayor was the clear target of attack by the alleged perpetrator—the only vehicle initially targeted was her vehicle. The NDF indirectly admitted that its NPA ambush unit knew that civilians, specifically including Mayor Guingona , were in the vehicle. It claimed that the NPA unit set up a “checkpoint” merely to disarm the mayor’s escorts and talk to her on her campaigning in its “territory” without its permission.
Mayor Guingona was still ambushed despite her family’s record of nationalist and progressive politics. Her husband, former Vice-President Teopisto Guingona, Jr., has been identified with progressive groups like Bayan Muna, sharing with them similar positions on various issues. This fact does not seem to be important for the CPP and NPA in Mindanao, who still insist that all candidates “recognize the Red political power and respect the revolutionary policies.”
NPA violence is part of the 2013 election violence scenario. It is an irony—despite an avowed derision for the parliamentary struggle—that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is in it up to its neck. In the 2013 elections, it is fielding its own candidates, negotiating votes with its politician allies, forcing “class enemies” to cough up “fees,” “contributions,” and even guns for their own election campaigns, and meting out punishments, including ambushes and assassinations, on their electoral opponents.
The ambush of Mayor Guingona is a case in point. The “permit to campaign” referred to by the NDF-Mindanao is applied to all politicians in the NPA area of operations and is enforced solely through threats or actual use of its armed might. It is not insignificant that the letters sent to politicians were invariably written in NPA stationeries. Mayor Guingona, obviously failed or refused to pay the “permit fee.”
The rebel group has evidently embraced the traditional politics of “guns, goons, and gold” to the hilt. Reportedly, it even negotiates now for “permit to win” arrangements, offering its armed services to warlords and “friendly” politicians. In many provinces where it has a presence, the NPA actively participates in the local elections. It does so—not by supporting progressive or reform candidates (who usually do not have the monetary capacity to pay the required fees)—but by allying with the “friendly” traditional politicians.
Of course, the CPP policy presented a dilemma to its own forces in the electoral arena. In a traditional political setting, they became vulnerable to the backlash from opposing politicians, the rightist extremists, and the military.
The Guingona ambush and other recent NPA attacks on “soft” targets signals the readiness of the CPP-NPA rebel group to set aside its commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL). Does this presage the shift to terrorism tactics as well?