FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2021 - 12:00am

There is no way any sense could be made of this outrageous act.

From the sketchy autopsy reports, this is what appears to have happened: NPA guerrillas set off a roadside explosive on a group of cyclists along a road in Masbate. After setting off the explosive, the guerrillas opened fire on the hapless victims.

Killed in that terrorist incident were Kieth Absalon and his cousin Nolven Absalon. Nolven’s 16-year-old son was wounded in the attack.

The worst possible explanation for what happened is that the guerrillas were practicing use of their homemade explosives. They were using live fire on real human targets. For good measure, they finished off the injured victims using their firearms. This makes the event one of utter callousness.

There was no way this could have been a “tactical error” as the CPP-NPA makes it appear to be as the group tries very hard to diminish the significance of what happened. The Absalons were on a leisurely bicycle ride on country roads. There was no way they could be mistaken for anything else.

Perhaps that guerrilla band was under pressure from political superiors to mount a “tactical offensive” to offset weeks of setbacks that saw the deaths, surrenders and captures of many NPA guerrillas. The communist guerrillas are always obsessed with conducting shows of strength after serious battlefield setbacks.

The CPP-NPA, while taking responsibility for what happened, tried to downplay this as a tactical error. They offered the Absalon family indemnity and promised an internal investigation into what happened. They are trying to sweep this atrocity under the rug and hoping people will forget.

The Absalon family correctly – and courageously – rejected the communists’ offer of indemnity. They want justice for their slaughtered kin.

This ambush is such an outrage that even the Commission on Human Rights broke its own inertia regarding crimes committed by non-state forces. The Commission described the ambush a violation of International Humanitarian Law (read: a crime against humanity). It called on the CPP-NPA to surrender the guerrillas so that they may be prosecuted in the regular courts.

President Rodrigo Duterte promised the Absalon family justice for the loss of their loved ones. Even as he spoke, security forces were in hot pursuit of the guerrilla band responsible for this atrocity.

This could yet be a watershed moment for this seemingly interminable Maoist insurgency.

Over the past few months, security forces have mounted a relentless counter-insurgency effort that inflicted losses on the already dwindling insurgency. A comprehensive barangay-based effort mounted by the NTC-ELCAC effectively cut off the insurgents from their prospective mass bases. Police raids neutralized communist death squads and captured numerous improvised explosive devices. NPA rifle strength diminished to less than 3,000 from a historic high of over 25,000.

This is obviously not a good time for the Maoist insurgency. But the ageing leadership of this lost cause will refuse to roll over and die. They will resort to whatever gimmickry is necessary to evince semblance of battlefield strength.

Expect communist sympathizers to try and diminish the importance of this atrocity. At the House of Representatives, for instance, party-list representative Sara Elago, in the aftermath of the killing of the Absalons, called on government to resume peace talks with the CPP-NPA. She made it sound like the suspension of peace talks with the communists is the reason why this abomination happened.

This is so incredibly tone-deaf. It was as if a crime against humanity had not happened.

But expect more of this the next few days as the communists try to clean up after this outrage.


Ahead of a summit meeting of leaders of rich countries, the Biden administration announced it had purchased 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for distribution to 100 poor countries through the Covax Facility. On cue, the UK announced 100 million doses of Astra Zeneca would likewise be donated through the same facility.

This is a most welcome donation. Over the next few days, we expect more rich countries to make similar vaccine pledges.

The donations are not entirely altruistic. Science tells us that no one can be safe until everybody is safe.

The pandemic numbers show that COVID-19 killed more people in the first five months of this year than in all of 2020. Although the wealthier countries are relatively safer because of their extensive vaccination programs, they are still threatened by new emerging variants evolving in pandemic-struck poor countries. The massive surge we saw in India the past few months, for instance, produced a variant that is not only more transmissible but appears to defy available vaccine formulations.

As in most other calamities, this pandemic deepened inequalities between nations and inside individual societies. The breakdowns of supply- and value-chains in the poorer countries are more severe – and so are the poverty outcomes arising from such breakdowns.

The generosity of the rich countries happens as the vaccine supply situation begins to ease. In the first months of vaccine availability, the richer countries hoarded supply to attend to their populations first. The hoard exceeded the supply they needed. As a result, vaccination at any scale has yet to commence in many poor societies, mostly in Africa.

The world has enough vaccine manufacturing capacity to eventually supply the needs of 7 billion people. But some nations will be fully vaccinated ahead of the others. The Covax Facility allows poorer nations better vaccine access than if they were left to fend for themselves.

Hereon, the real test will be the capacity to administer the doses to billions more.

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