EIGHT days ago, members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army–Alex Bongcayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) clashed with suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Barangay Bagong Silang in the town of Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental. A spokesperson of the RPA-ABB told local media that the NPA attempted to raid the RPA-ABB community in the area. However, a relative of one of the four claimed fatalities saidthat the RPA-ABB members, had, unprovoked, opened fire on the victim and his companions (one body was retrieved).
In July, Charlie Buli-Buli, an RPA-ABB commander, was assassinated in the same barangay. The NPA has claimed responsibility. However, Salvador Benedicto Councilor Eden Bacordo (the son of the Bagong Silang barangay captain and former municipal councilor Vicente Bacordo) and his bodyguard Arnold Larida, who were killed together with Bacordo’s girlfriend, on September 15 in Murcia town, were among the suspects in the murder of Buli-Buli. The police accuse the NPA of being behind the triple murder. Something doesn’t add up, however. Could these be a case of different factions of the RPA-ABB fighting each other? Political rivalry, too, is intense in Salvador Benedicto, known as the Baguio of Negros Occidental.
The RPA-ABB is still an entity in its own right even as the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa–Pilipinas (RPMP), of which the RPA-ABB is the armed wing, became the mainstream, SEC-registered Kapatiran para sa Progresong Panlipunan (KPP) in 2013. The RPMP-RPA-ABB, a breakaway group from the Communist Party of the Philippines, signed a peace agreement with the government in December 2000. It split into two in 2007. The faction known as the Tabara-Paduano Group (TPG) is headed by Veronica Tabara, the widow of late RPA-ABB head Arturo Tabara who was liquidated by the NPA in 2004, and Congressman Joseph Stephen Paduano. Paduano, a former RPA-ABB commander, is the representative of Abang Lingkod party-list which first won a seat in the 2013 elections.
By June 2012, a Closure Agreement had been drafted. It spelled out three-fold objectives, namely the disposition of arms and forces, the transformation of the RPMP-RPA-ABB-TPG from an armed group to a legitimate organization, and the provision of development support. More than 700 members of the RPMP-RPA-ABB-TPG have been profiled, majority of whom are in Negros and Panay.
On the disposition of arms and forces, the RPA-ABB will surrender high-powered firearms, explosives and crew-served weapons upon the signing of the Closure Agreement. The remaining firearms will be turned over within six months from the signing, and before the training of recruits under the AFP Reservist Act of 1991, or before moving into the identified settlement areas for those who don’t become reservists. The settlement areas will have their own community defense force arrangement with the Philippine Army, thus the recruitment and training of reservists from among RPA-ABB members.
The NPA has liquidated a number of RPA-ABB members over the years. While it is true that several RPA-ABB members have been identified as hired killers and linked to violent crimes (including the assassination of Kabankalan Regional Trial Judge Henry Arles in 2012), Mrs. Tabara and her group have reason to fear politically motivated attacks by the NPA. The latter has recently, according to a former NPA rebel, dispatched assassins in the cities of Guihulngan, Canlaon and San Carlos and the town of La Libertad. Last December 2016, the CPP-NPA bragged that they were able to gather a crowd of more than 3000 somewhere in Central Negros. On that occasion, NPA Negros spokesman Juanito Magbanua declared that “the future is bright for the revolution, which is why the government has been forced to enter into peace talks with us” (kodao.org).
President Benigno Aquino 3rd gave an assurance in 2015 that the Closure Agreement would be signed before he bowed out of office. Yet, while many concrete steps have been taken to integrate the RPA-ABB rebels into mainstream society, the Closure Agreement remains unsigned to this day. The good news is that the Duterte administration has continued building on the accomplishments of previous administrations. Last July, the Department of Social Welfare and Development distributed a total of P12 million worth of livelihood project grants to 24 KPP member groups in Negros Oriental. A few weeks later, the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources awarded a tenurial instrument under a Community-based Forest Management Agreement covering a 267.3-hectare site located in Sibulan, Amlan and Tanjay City to KPP Negros Oriental.
The signing of the Closure Agreement and the accelerated implementation of peace and development projects in areas covered by the peace agreement are included in President Rodrigo Duterte’s 6-Point Peace and Development Agenda that he presented in his inaugural address last June 30. This gives hope that the lawless violence involving RPA-ABB members will end while the KPP will be able to defend itself, its individual members and communities against NPA attacks.