Army checking if Tiamzon couple among casualties in Samar encounter

Authorities are validating a report that high-ranking New People’s Army leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon were neutralized by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident in Catbalogan City, Samar, on 22 August.

The initial spot report said the Tiamzon couple, along with around eight armed NPA rebels, were onboard a motorboat to Buri Island when they clashed with government troops who were on two boats conducting operations at around 4:20 a.m.

Amid the exchange of gunfire, the NPA group’s boat exploded at around 4:45 a.m. and sank.

AFP JTF Storm commander Army Major General Edgardo de Leon later confirmed that an operation was conducted against a hostile motorized boat in the morning of 22 August.

“When our troops approached, they begged them [the hostile group] for a plain-view inspection. But he [one of the government troops] was shot while speaking. Fortunately, he was not hit, and a chase ensued. Then suddenly the motorized boat exploded,” De Leon narrated.

He added that, at the moment, they have yet to identify whom they encountered.

“We really monitor the shorelines in support of the anti-illegal fishing campaign, and criminal gangs eluding arrest,” he said.

The CPP-NPA, De Leon said, uses the mobility corridor to transport personnel, guns, and anti-personnel mines.

“This was revealed by their colleagues who have returned to the government fold,” De Leon said, adding that the military is firm in its commitment to support local government units to promote peace to the people of Eastern Visayas by ending local communist armed conflict.

“We shall also be an active partner of the PNP in law enforcement. Our people long deserve peace and prosperity,” De Leon said.

Benito, alias Laan, is reportedly the Communist Party of the Philippines’ chairperson, central and executive committee member, political bureau member of the CPP-NPA-NDF, and National Democratic Front consultant.

Wilma, alias Jag, is said to be the CPP secretary general, executive committee and political bureau member, NDFP negotiating panel national consultant, and the CPP national finance commission secretary.

The report also identified one Joel Arceo Divino, secretary of NPA sub-regional command Browser, among the rebels onboard the boat.

At press time, the whereabouts of the couple and other passengers of the capsized boat were unknown.

The Tiamzons were arrested on 22 March 2014 for the killing of 15 civilians at Sitio SapangDaco, Barangay Kaulisihan, Inopacan, Leyte in 1985.

They were released on bail in August 2016 following the resumption of peace talks under the administration of then President Rodrigo Duterte.

When the talks failed in 2017, the Tiamzons refused to surrender and went back into hiding.

On 27 November 2020, they were convicted for the kidnapping and serious Illegal detention of Lt. Abraham Claro Casis and three other Army officials in Quezon province in 1988, and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
The military said the couple, long-time members and high-ranking leaders of the communist terrorist group, undermined the people’s faith in the government and advocated armed struggle to change the present system.

They both have standing warrants of arrest, as follows: for 15 counts of murder issued by Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of RTC Branch 32, Manila on 14 September 2017; for frustrated murder issued by Judge Decoroso M. Turla of RTC Branch 21, Laoang, Northern Samar on 12 January 2012; and for murder issued by Judge Decoroso M. Turla of RTC Branch 21, Laoang, Northern Samar on 10 June 2013.

With a report from Lade Kabagani

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