NPA admits Paquibato bombing; says ‘sorry’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/7 Sept) – The New People’s Army (NPA) has claimed responsibility for the September 1 grenade blast that injured 48 civilians watching a circus show in Paquibato district, and apologized for its “gross mistake in judgment.”

Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesperson of the Merardo Arce Command of the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command (MAC-SMROC), issued the apology in a three-paragraph statement titled “A Self-Criticism on The Paquibato Incident.”

The statement was dated Thursday but e-mailed to media outlets on Friday afternoon, hours after Col. Lysander Suerte, commander of the 1003rd Infantry Brigade, challenged the NPA to admit responsibility for the bombing “and not make this a propaganda against our soldiers who are serving the people in Paquibato.”

On Thursday, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte urged the NPA to own up or deny responsibility for the bombing instead of just keeping mum about the incident.

Sanchez said the NPA takes “full responsibility” for the bombing in Barangay Fatima, Paquibato district, for which it issued “this self-criticism to apologize to the public and the families for the scores of casualties, including children.”

Eighteen of the victims of the grenade blast inside the covered court where the circus was held, were children aged 2 to 17.

“Gross mistake”

Initiating a tactical offensive against a military detachment located in a civilian population, Sanchez said, was “a wrong decision,” a “gross mistake.”

He added that its 1st Pulang Bagani Company aimed at hitting a legitimate military target but “erred in considering the circumstances, combat intelligence and all pertinent operational information in instigating the NPA action.”

In the face of “this gross mistake in judgment,” Sanchez said they will initiate an internal investigation and will take appropriate courses of action, including disciplinary action against  members of the responsible unit.

Police said residents in Paquibato’s Fatima village were watching a circus performance at a covered court when a grenade was lobbed towards an adjacent military detachment. But the grenade instead hit a tarpaulin, then bounced off into the covered court and exploded.

City police chief Ronald dela Rosa told reporters Friday morning that initial police results showed the NPA was responsible for the incident.

“Open for peace”

Dela Rosa said that based on the affidavits of witnesses, two unidentified men were seen in the area during the incident. He said the first lobbed the grenade while the other entered the detachment to do “agaw armas” (weapons snatching), but fled when he failed.

Before learning of the NPA’s admission, Col. Suerte, said in a text message, “We are challenging the NPA to admit the Fatima bombing and not make this a propaganda against our soldiers who are serving the people in Paquibato.”

Asked to comment on the NPA’s statement, Mayor Sara Duterte said in a text message: “Whoever threw the grenade must give up, and must be prosecuted in court as it is a crime.”

She said “our arms are open for peace” to all NPA members who were not involved in the bombing, and that all they need is to name a place and time and “we will be there to talk peace.”

In an earlier report, Vice Mayor Duterte, who visited the blast site on Tuesday, sought a pull-out of military camps from civilian communities.

Not the first

Suerte said the military will continue its peace and development operation in Paquibato in coordination with local government units “until we achieve peace and development for the people.”

Sanchez said the NPA “will take concrete measures to indemnify the victims, consistent with the principles of revolutionary justice and the policies governing the NPA and the revolutionary movement.”

“The NPA stands firm for justice and truth and is prepared to rectify mistakes. By issuing this unflinching public apology and self-criticism, the NPA abides with the principled standpoint, viewpoint and method adopted by the NPA and the revolutionary movement,” he added.

It wasn’t the first time the NPA issued an apology for harming civilians.

Twenty-three years ago, the Merardo Arce Command (then referred to as Meynardo Arce Command) apologized for the June 25, 1989 killing of 39 persons, mostly women and children (11 of them were children aged 1 to 13) and the wounding of eight others (including three children under 10 years old) inside a chapel of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Sitio Rano, Barangay Binaton, Digos, Davao del Sur.

It took the NPA five days before it admitted responsibility for Saturday’s grenade blast.

In 1989, the NPA the next day admitted responsibility and apologized for what would be known in history as the “Sitio Rano Massacre,” but claimed anti-communist fanatics inside the chapel attacked them first.   (Lorie Cascaro/MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)