Butuan aerial bombing constitutes disproportionate use of firepower

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At least five members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were instantly killed last June 16 as a Super Tucano military aircraft dropped at least five bombs on their guerrilla camp in Barangay Anticala, Butuan City at around 10:45 a.m. The NPA fighters were part of a guerrilla platoon that serves the people of Agusan del Norte and who have been with them in their life and death struggles against landgrabbers and plunderers.

The Party condemns the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for employing aerial bombs (typically 125- or 250-kilograms each) which constitutes an excessive use of firepower. The use of heavy bombs in counter-guerrilla operations violate generally accepted laws and customs of war which prohibit the use of weapons and methods that cause superfluous injury and death to combatants. These are acts of war that are criminal in nature. Marcos and the AFP must be held accountable for such war crimes.

In warfare, dropping heavy bombs are typically reserved against heavily fortified military targets, unlike guerrilla camps where combatants are protected only by trees or trenches. In using such weapons, the AFP aims to give the NPA no quarter, or cause the maximum number of deaths and injury, which has long been considered unlawful and in violation of international humanitarian law.

In the case of the Butuan bombing, no actual firefight occurred between the NPA unit and the ground forces of the AFP, contrary to press statements released by the AFP claiming that there was a “fierce firefight.” The ground troops of the AFP belonging to the 29th IB approached the bombing site around one hour later, only to survey the death and destruction caused by their heavy weapons.

The Butuan bombing is not the first violation of the principles of IHL and customary laws of war. In August 16, 2021, the AFP dropped more than 20 bombs in an NPA camp in Dolores, Eastern Samar, which killed 22 NPA fighters. In May 10, 2020, ten NPA fighters were killed in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental when the AFP dropped a number of bombs in their area. On December 1, 2021, eight NPA fighters were killed as the AFP dropped at least five heavy bombs in Miag-ao, Iloilo.

While AFP aerial bombing has hit a number of NPA guerrilla camps, majority of the bombs dropped by the AFP since 2017 have missed their targets, hitting swidden farms, mountain communities, and fields near civilian population. A July 2022 study released by the CPP revealed that AFP bombing only has an 18.44% accuracy. In 2017-2022, AFP “friendly fire” killed at least 68 soldiers and police, more than the 66 killed suffered by the NPA. At least 10 civilians have been killed in AFP bombings.

The Party extols the fallen NPA Red fighters in Butuan as heroes of the Filipino people. Let us forever remember Ruel Arellano Maglasang (“Ka Adonis/Do/Dolly/Dodo”), Raylyn Cerona Subere (Ka Kiya/Apol/April), Eljie Gomez Adorna (Ka Chippy/Raffy/Maleya), Alvet Martines Catapti (Ka Renz) and Ka Mitz/Third.

They gave up all comfort to defend the peasant masses, and advance the cause of national and social liberation. Their sacrifices, like that of all martyrs, will forever inspire the people to carry on the struggle until victory is attained.

Butuan aerial bombing constitutes disproportionate use of firepower