Karapatan condemns brutal killing of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon and companions, calls for independent probe

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the brutal killing of Benito Tiamzon, peacetalks panel member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP peace consultant Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, and eight companions. The Tiamzons’ death along with eight others on August 21, 2022 was confirmed in a special issue of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) official organ Ang Bayan dated April 20.

According to the Ang Bayan account, the Tiamzons and their eight companions, who were all unarmed, were aboard two vehicles in Catbalogan City between 12 noon and 1 p.m. of August 21, when they were intercepted and taken by State forces. They were reportedly tortured severely, with witnesses saying that their faces and bodies had been smashed, apparently beaten with hard objects. The victims’ bodies were then dumped on a motorboat filled with explosives on August 22 that was tugged from Catbalogan midway towards Taranganan island before it was detonated. Only eight bodies were subsequently retrieved by the military. The AFP later alleged that a mid-sea firefight and explosion had occurred that day, with the Tiamzon couple among the casualties. The AFP’s claims, said the CPP, were meant to hide evidence of the “ignominy of their fascist crime.”

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay assailed the reported summary killings of the Tiamzons and their eight companions (collectively known as the “Catbalogan 10”) as a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). “IHL prohibits the harming of civilians and unarmed combatants or those who are no longer able to engage in combat, such as the wounded or sick,” said Palabay. “It is deplorable that despite being a signatory to the pertinent IHL protocols under the Geneva Conventions and in spite of the enactment of RA 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity, there have been so many reports of IHL violations by the AFP,” she added.

Palabay cited the killings of CPP-NPA-NDF personalities Jorge Madlos, Julius Giron, Menardo Villanueva, Eugenia Magpantay, Agaton Topacio, Alvin Luque and Ericson Acosta, all under highly suspicious circumstances. “In many of these killings,” said Palabay, “the tired, old ‘nanlaban’ line was invoked in much the same way as this was used to justify the drug war killings. In all instances,” she added, “there is a seeming desire to sweep everything under the rug by tagging the casualties as ‘communist terrorists.'”

“Worse,” said Palabay, “civilians are likewise being targeted by State authorities through indiscriminate aerial bombings and artillery attacks because they are suspected of supporting the CPP-NPA,” citing the bombings in Baggao, Cagayan and Kalinga province as recent examples.

Palabay called for an independent investigation on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and killing of the “Catbalogan 10.” “Treating arrested persons in so brutal a manner is totally unacceptable in any society that dares to call itself civilized,” she said. “The heinous killing of the Tiamzons and the massacre of the ‘Catbalogan 10’ are clear acts of fascist state terrorism that must be condemned by all human rights advocates.”

Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, both pre-martial law activists and veterans of the anti-dictatorship struggle, were arrested in Cebu in March 2014. They were last in the public eye when they were released to join the peace negotiations with the Philippine government in 2016 to 2017. Benito was a member of the NDFP negotiating panel while Wilma chaired the reciprocal working group on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces. The couple went underground after the Duterte government scuttled the peace talks and a Manila court issued a warrant for the Tiamzons’ arrest in 2018.

Palabay demanded justice for the “Catbalogan 10” and all other victims of state terrorism.