“Presently still in critical medical condition and suffering from temporary loss of memory and speech, Cañete does not present any further threat and is incapable of fighting.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — Despite the renewed willingness of the Duterte administration to resume the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) recently arrested a guerilla fighter undergoing hospital treatment.
On May 12, Bulatlat received an urgent report that Zaldy Cañete, member of the 1st Pulang Bagani Company of the New People’s Army (1st PBC-NPA) in Southern Mindanao, was arrested while recuperating at Don Carlos District Hospital (DCDH) in Bukidnon.
According to a press release of the NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, the guerilla fighters were on ‘active defense mode’ due to the military operations of the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in Bukidnon. Cañete and other members of the 1st PBC-NPA were in a battle for two hours, intensified by aerial and ground bombing. At least eight elements of the Philippine Army died.
Meanwhile, Cañete sustained head and body injuries and was brought to the nearest hospital. On May 11, he underwent an 11-hour brain surgery and is currently suffering from temporary loss of memory and speech. On May 12, the Philippine National Police (PNP), along with AFP and intelligence operatives, arrived at the hospital and served multiple warrants of arrest against Cañete.
With Cañete in critical condition, his family and paralegals from human rights group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights – Southern Mindanao Region (Karapatan – SMR) have been barred from visiting him. Elements of the 88th IBPA even maliciously took photos of the visitors, and Cañete remains heavily guarded by both AFP and PNP troops. As of this writing, Bulatlat has yet to receive an update if they have already been allowed to visit Cañete.
“Presently still in critical medical condition and suffering from temporary loss of memory and speech, Cañete does not present any further threat and is incapable of fighting. The elementary rules of civilized warfare plainly guarantee Cañete the protection and respect as an hors de combat,” NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Command Spokesperson Rigoberto Sanchez said in a statement.
“In the same manner that the NPA has treated leniently any captured personnel of the military, police, and paramilitary forces as prisoners of war in faithful compliance to international customary law pertaining to humanitarian principles, norms, and rules in armed conflicts, the GRP has no recourse but to afford Cañete the same rights and non-discriminatory protection. To do otherwise smacks of the US-Duterte regime’s insincerity, duplicity, and notoriety in the peace process between the GRP and the NDFP and in direct mockery of the import of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he added.
Human rights groups have also appealed for the release and humane treatment of the wounded guerilla fighter.
The Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP), a religious-led alliance in Southern Mindanao, has promptly called for the release and humane treatment of Zaldy Cañete, leader of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) Pulang Bagani Command in Davao.
According to EJP, Cañete’s arrest could also constitute a breach of the Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), wherein wounded combatants or hors de combat are supposedly protected from attacks.
Cañete’s arrest is only one among the long list of human rights violations and violations of IHL committed by the AFP. The religious alliance added that continued violations of IHL could dampen the climate for the resumption of the peace talks.
“EJP observes that the AFP continues to ignore the efforts of the GPH panel and the people’s clamor for peace as it continues its operations and propaganda. Clearly this does not help the peace talks,” the alliance said in a statement.
“EJP believes that reciprocity is incumbent upon both protagonists in the civil war. As the NPA has released prisoners of war in the past, the time now calls on the AFP to reciprocate with its own humanitarian gestures. If heeded by the AFP, this will be a significant step to humanize the dire impact of civil war on human lives and, more importantly, to bring forth confidence in the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP,” it added.
In 2010, Cañete was also captured by the military. He was brought to the military hospital in Davao City, but was shortly transferred to the Compostela Valley Provincial Jail, where he was not afforded proper medical treatment. He suffered recurring stomach wounds while in jail. He was released on bail in July 2015.