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MANILA, Philippines – After a farmer's startling discovery of bones from an estimated 30 people believed to have been victims of a late 1980's NPA purge, authorities on Monday began the grim task of trying to give identity to the skeletal remains found in Quezon province.
Many families had been reluctant to come forward in the past to push for a search for their missing relatives, apparently out of fear of reprisals, the military says.
As of Monday, authorities said “there is a coordinating conference for the decent burial of the victims of the NPA’s summary executions.” No one among the victims has been identified so far.
The Army's 74th Infantry Battalion led by Lt Col Dennis Perez is “trying to persuade those who have missing relatives to cooperate with the local authorities in identifying the victims by all means.”
Some of the families who are reported to have missing children are said to be "too scared to surface for fear of the NPA's reprisal".
"This is a grim reminder [of] the fate of those who were sentenced to die under the NPA's own Kangaroo Court justice system. All friends and relatives of those who had been recruited to join the armed group must help in convincing their loved ones to return to the folds of the law before it is too late," he said.
Perez also said that he will sustain the efforts to help the LGUs deliver public services while continuously urging the 3-5 remaining armed rebels to surrender.
"We don't intend to kill them in clashes; instead, we want them to lay down their arms and abandon the use of armed violence. That is why we are showing the people that our focus is in helping solve their problems like the issues about land ownership," said Perez, who is working closely with the local Agrarian Reform program officers to solve land issues aired by the people.
A farmer’s chilling find
Earlier on Sunday, the Army reported that a farmer had accidentally unearthed the skeletal remains of what were believed to be victims of killings by New People's
Rommel Malinao, 47, was plowing his field Saturday when he discovered a mass grave containing the remains of at least 30 persons in Sitio Irrigation, Barangay Pagsanghan. The Army said the skeletal remains were at least two decades old.
Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said the skeletal remains were believed to be victims of NPA purges who were sentenced to die by a rebel "kangaroo court."
Malinao said the sight of the human remains scared him, recalling incidents when rebels were killing people who were suspected military informants.
Rebecca Ruga, barangay chairman of Pagsangahan, reported the incident to the local police and military authorities.
At around 8 a.m. Sunday, government officials, soldiers of the 74th Infantry Battalion and PNP scene of the crime operatives (SOCO) proceeded to the site of the mass grave to conduct an investigation.
A villager, who refused to be identified, said that at least 47 people in their locality had gone missing starting in mid-80's.
It was also during this period that the communist rebels implemented the "Oplan Missing Link," in an attempt to cleanse their ranks of suspected undercover military agents.
Lt. Col. Dennis Perez, Commanding Officer of the 74th Infantry Battalion, called on all human rights advocates including the group Karapatan, which is very critical of the military, to denounce the killings believed to be the handiwork of the NPA.
"This is a clear manifestation of the CPP-NPA's cruelty not only towards the civilian populace but also against their own armed members. These crimes must be condemned by all," he said.
On August 2006, another mass grave, containing remains of former NPA rebels executed by their comrades, was discovered in Sitio Mount Sapang Dako, Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte.
From 2009-2012, several mass graves were discovered by the soldiers of the 9th Infantry Division in the Bicol region.
Skeletal remains of supposed NPA victims were discovered in Gubat, Sorsogon, Bgy Taplacon in Camalig, Albay and also in Labo, Camarines Norte.