By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The tit-for-tat between the Philippine government and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) on the use of landmines has been going on for a long time. In August 2016, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) made clear that the NPA would not abandon the production of command detonated explosives (CDX) and even encouraged its guerrillas to produce and utilize these more effectively.
Recent clashes in the Mountain Province between the maneuver units of the Philippine National Police and the rebels again put the issue in the limelight.
On March 29, Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde informed the media that a unit of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion Cordillera (RMFB) encountered NPA guerillas in Bagnen, Bauko, Mountain Province. The PNP took two casualties from the clash, one dead and another wounded.
Fighting again erupted on March 31 and April 2 during the pursuit operations. In the latter incident, the police said the RMFB was hit by a “landmine”, killing an officer and injuring 10 others.
“Only terrorists resort to landmines, as often seen in the news from around the world. International humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions have outlawed the use of landmines in warfare because of the risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage,” the Police Regional Office–Cordillera said in a statement.
Rebels belonging to the Leonardo Pacsi Command (LPC) of the NPA operating in the Mountain Province owned the attack. In their statements they admitted to using “command detonated explosives” during the April 2 skirmish.
“The improvised explosive devices used by the NPA in its harassment and ambush operations, particularly, are Command-Detonated Explosive Devices (CDX) which are legitimate and intentionally used for the enemy targets,” LPC spokesperson Magno Udyaw said in a statement.
Along with the statement was a link to a video of guerillas remotely detonating an explosive device presumably during the April 2 battle.
The rebel leader explained that, technically, the CDX is not a landmine. He said that unlike landmines, CDXs “don’t explode even when stepped on or kicked.” According to him, the device is mounted in designated enemy kill zones and remotely detonated by NPA fighters.
Udyaw said the use of command-detonated anti-personnel, anti-vehicle, and anti-tank explosives is not prohibited under the Ottawa Convention.
Who got the facts right? Not all anti-personnel explosives are banned under International Humanitarian Laws. The Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines, also called the Ottawa Convention or Mine Ban Treaty, distinguishes between “anti-personnel mines” and remote-controlled explosives.
The Convention prohibits victim-detonated anti-personnel mines which are placed on the ground and explode “by the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” It does not ban explosives that are controlled by remote and detonated on command; it does not even prohibit those that can be exploded by contact with tanks or other vehicles.
An earlier treaty, the Protocol II of the Convention Prohibiting Certain Conventional Weapons also made general restriction on the use of mines and booby traps triggered by the proximity or contact of individuals.
The use of landmines, whether by terrorist or state armed forces, is considered abhorrent by the international community.
However, two decades after the treaty entered into force on the first of March this year, 33 countries have remained defiant of it in varying degrees, according to International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Some of these countries still produce and use landmines; they include India, Myanmar, Pakistan, and South Korea. Libya and Syria also used the device in recent conflicts, while others reserved their right to continue production. Meanwhile, countries like the United States, Russia and China continue to keep their stockpiles, which are among the world’s largest.
During the International Conference on Engaging Non-state Actors in a Landmine Ban, the participants reached the consensus that the Ottawa Convention only binds state actors. They also underscored that engagement of non-state actors should be made to encourage them to recognize the principles and provisions of the treaty.
Meanwhile, the Geneva Conventions mentioned by PROCOR cover the conduct of warring parties toward civilians and their adversaries. The treaty is composed of four independent but related set of rules. Protocols I and II deal with the treatment of sick and wounded troops on land and sea (including the shipwrecked). The third protocol pertains to the rights and welfare of prisoners of war. The protection of civilians is contained in Protocol IV.
The CPP-NPA-NDFP has publicly asserted its state of belligerency in the ongoing armed strife in the Philippines in many instances. The group has likewise declared in all its public documents utmost respect for people’s rights, including the rights of their armed adversaries.
Also, in its declaration to undertake Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, the NDFP has acknowledged that it is “bound by international customary law pertaining to humanitarian principles, norms and rules in armed conflicts.” The declaration covers all revolutionary organizations allied in the NDFP, including the CPP “as the ruling party” in the revolutionary structure and the NPA as its “main armed force”.
Thus, although the rebels are not signatories to certain international treaties, they are politically and morally committed to observing the highest standards of International Humanitarian Law in the course of their revolutionary war. # nordis.net