Two members of the Manobo tribe were violently murdered by suspected known members of the New People’s Army (NPA) at 7 p.m. on 19 March, just four days into the month-long ceasefire agreement. The victims were residents of Sitio Inadan, Barangay Magroyong, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, where the killings took place.
President Duterte had earlier declared a unilateral ceasefire from 19 March to 15 April to allow the government to focus on the threat of COVID-19.
The victims have been identified as Magroyong tribal chieftain Hawudon Bernadino Astudillo, 73, and Zaldy Ibanez, 52.
According to Col. Xerxes Trinidad, the 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office chief, the men were abducted from their homes in the presence of their family members. They were then brought to a nearby forested area where they were stabbed to death. NPA terrorists are known to brazenly abduct their targets despite multiple witnesses.
The killings were carried out by more or less 15 reported members of the Guerilla Front 30, North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee, which is led by Joel Mahinay aka Nicko.
Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio M. Gacal, comander of the 4th Infantry Division, condemned the killings, especially since the victims were unarmed and not considered military targets.
“This is a clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) under RA 9851. Aggravating the circumstance, the victims identified were elderly people belonging to the Manobo tribe,” Gacal said.
Gacal further said that the NPA is “taking advantage of the ceasefire declared by the President, in spite of the global health issues caused by COVID-19”.
NPA rebels may see the increased vulnerability of Indigenous People during the pandemic and the diverted attention of the government as a prime opportunity to strike, causing more deaths and violence in the communities they terrorize. Responding to this threat, President Duterte in his April 1 address to the nation told the radical members of the Left that he would not hesitate to use appropriate force to subdue them should they attempt to sow violent disorder during this national crisis, despite the ceasefire.