We present here in a comprehensive manner the NDFP position on the use of land mines in its war of national and social liberation.
The revolutionary movement has taken great pains to observe the highest standards of international humanitarian law in carrying out its struggle as a national liberation movement as demonstrated by its solemn, formal and official adherence to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and its 1977 Protocols and even took the earnest initiative to have both the GRP and itself to forge the CARHRIHL.
The NDFP has already explained that the NPA is committed to uphold and carry out the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols and other international humanitarian law. It is committed to implement the CARHRIHL. All these stipulate that the civilian population and civilians are to be protected in the course of the armed conflict.
Thus the NPA is committed “not to direct its gunfire and land mines against
the civilians but is allowed to direct the same against military targets, including combat troops whether they are walking or riding in any military or military-commandeered vehicle.”
The principles of proportionality and military necessity under international humanitarian law and instruments that guarantee the paramount protection to civilians in any armed conflict in the conduct of warfare is consistent with the legitimacy of using land mines as a method of warfare by national liberation movements like the NDFP. As a matter of fact, the consistent position and practice of the NPA conforms to these standards.
As suggested above, considering the peculiarity of the present armed conflict and the specific characteristics of guerrilla warfare, the use of land mines is very effective not only as both a defense and tool of offense of the people’s army but also as defense of civilians who are subject to attacks of the GRP military and other GRP armed groups.
Incidentally, the NDFP does not use the word “victim” to refer to military targets because the NPAs only hit combatants who are legitimate military targets. Members of the GRP security armed forces are – except medics and chaplains – combatants and are, therefore, not victims in the true sense of the laws of armed conflict and even international human rights law.
It is the position of the NDFP that the use of land mines and IEDs – particularly and most especially those that are command-detonated anti-personnel and anti-vehicle types or contact-detonated anti-vehicle types—are legitimate tools of warfare considering that they only target legitimate military objects of attack and precludes any inchoate, potential, impending, actual or even future harm or injury to the civilians and the civilian population.
As a matter of fact, within the realities of the people’s war being waged by the NPA, the masses who constitute the mass base of the revolutionary movement are at times involved in the planning, installation, safety, security and identification of these land mines and IEDS which are directed solely and exclusively against the enemy combatants of the GRP.
As explained earlier, it is clear that what the Ottawa Convention bans is the use of anti-personnel mines that are target-detonated. It neither prohibits the use of command-detonated anti-personnel mines nor both target-detonated and command-detonated anti-tank/vehicle mines.
At all events, as revolutionary organizations, the CPP/NPA/NDFP are not bound by this particular Convention and by the tendentious language of biased commentators (e.g. referring to the revolutionary forces as “nonstate actors” and to the aggressor troops as “victims” in the expression victim-detonated). The revolutionary forces are not unilaterally bound by the Ottawa Convention because they have not signed it and because only State actors can sign it to become contracting parties aside from the fact that it obviously does not belong to customary law which is otherwise binding on all subjects of international law.
As a matter of principle, there is actually no stopping the NPA from even using target-activated or contact-activated anti-personnel landmines or IEDs for as long as they are solely, directly and exclusively directed against and guaranteed or ensured to hit only legitimate military objects of attack like combatants or military personnel.
In the 1996 Declaration of Undertaking, the NDFP has validated and reaffirmed its policy and practice of hitting only legitimate military objects of attacks, to wit:
“The NDFP regards as legitimate targets of military attacks the units, personnel and facilities belonging to the following:
- The Armed Forces of the Philippines
- The Philippine National Police
- The paramilitary forces; and
- The intelligence personnel of the foregoing.
Civil servants of the GRP are not subject to military attack, unless in specific cases they belong to any of the four abovestated categories.”
Though it appears that so far the NPA has used command-detonated land mines, it would be harmful to the long-term interest of the revolutionary movement if the CPP, NPA and NDFP gratuitously give up the use of land mines that are not command-detonated. As a matter of fact, the land mines of various types are judiciously and effectively used to discourage and frustrate enemy advances on the ground (by infantry and vehicle-riding troops), to secure the perimeter of the armed revolutionary camps and to counter the more anti-civilian weapons mass of destruction used by the enemy.
It is, therefore, a cogent view that under the Geneva Conventions, it is entirely permissible for national liberation movements to use land mines closely supervised by the revolutionary forces and people and to either let these land mines detonate upon command by the NPA unit in charge or pressure or contact by the enemy infantry troops and by tanks, military vehicles or military-commandeered vehicles.
Within the framework of the Geneva Conventions, military targets are legitimate sole and main targets even if by some unintended or reasonably unforeseen rare circumstance, secondary damage is inflicted on the civilian population in the process of achieving such main military objective. The ICRC memorandum is in essence still within this framework. The term “civilian population” of course applies relative to the irresponsible and arbitrary use of landmines and other weapons against them. The people, after all, have the right to defend themselves through all fair means including using land mines.v
It must be stressed that the land mines of the NPA are made, stocked deployed and/or used under the close supervision of the CPP, NPA, NDFP, people’s government and mass organizations. Indeed, the most successful landmines usage are under the close supervision of the people’s government and mass organizations.
Within the capabilities of the revolutionary movement and the particularities of the present armed struggle, adherence to the Geneva Conventions, the CARHRIHL and the ICRC Memorandum on the responsible making, stocking, use, deployment and dismantling of land mines is presently adequate and sufficient as well as consistent with the objectives of international humanitarian law in the humanization of armed conflicts and the protection of civilians and civilian populations.
While it agrees with the basic principles and tenets that prompted the Ottawa Convention, the revolutionary movement need not be straight jacketed into conforming mechanically, blindly and unqualifiedly with its injunctions at this point without taking into account the nature and characteristics as well as peculiarities of the just war waged by a belligerent force against a brutal and fascist enemy that is far more powerful.
A. Practice of the New People’s Army
In the light of the unrelenting, vicious and malicious attacks by the GRP as well as other individuals and groups who either have their priorities mixed up or are out of proportion, or are motivated by a less than sincere agenda that undermines the revolutionary struggle of the people as well as the integrity of NDFP, the NDFP has come up over time with a clarification of its position vis-à-vis the use of landmines.
The NDFP has credibly disputed the charge that the NPA uses land mines in violation of international humanitarian laws. What the NPA makes use of are “command-detonated landmines directed at legitimate military targets. The detonation takes place upon sight of the enemy vehicle or military target. This method ensures that civilians and other non-military targets are not harmed.”
The CPP has said time and again that the revolutionary movement strictly prohibits the NPA from using self-detonating landmines and allows only command-detonated land mines aimed at specific and legitimate military targetsviii like enemy vehicles of war.
Again, for reference, the current understanding of what an “anti-personnel mine” is:
“a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped.“
Clearly, the present internationally accepted definition of “anti-personnel land mines” does not cover the command-detonated land mines which the NPA employs as legitimate offensive weapons against military vehicles of the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) transporting troops and supplies across and within AFP-NPA battlefields.
These weapons which are wired to manual detonating devices are carefully attended to by NPA fighters to ensure that these are fired only against legitimate military targets. They are not primed to accidentally detonate merely upon contact by a person. The NPA as mentioned is governed by strict standards in producing and employing command-detonated land mines.
Similarly, the NDFP Human Rights Committee has also confirmed that “the CPP strictly prohibits the use of self-detonating (noncommand-detonated) land mines and allows only the use of command-detonated land mines which are aimed at specific legitimate military targets (military vehicles and troops). This is in accord with the adherence of the NDFP and the revolutionary forces to international humanitarian law to respect the rights of civilians and civilian communities and avoid bringing harm to them.”
The NPA at present only uses command-detonated land mines or improvised explosive devices or IEDs.
However, having clarified this practice and policy, it remains a valid position that the NDFP nevertheless “considers it vague and confusing any blanket prohibition of anti-personnel mines without any clear distinction between military personnel and civilians. It is well-known that when the NPA uses either contact-detonated or command-detonated land mines these are for a limited time and limited range per occasion under close supervision of the NPA command concerned in order to ensure zero risk for civilians.”
But as a general rule and practice, the NPA as a regular mobile or guerrilla force “does not engage in any positional defense of territory or bases and camps by using landmines to offset surprise raids by AFP commando units. Land mines deployed around NPA camps are necessarily command-detonated for the safety of the NPA. But the NPA has limited use of even command-detonated land mines for defense. It relies mainly on the people for its protection.”
Hence, the reason for the prohibition on contact-detonated anti-personnel mines is absolutely obviated by these specific and restrictive qualifications in practice. This is but in accordance with the earlier discussions on the nature and conditions of the armed struggle being waged by the NDFP taking into full consideration the organizational and political principles and circumstances of the revolutionary movement at any given time and place.
In other times and places, the use of land mines has been very effective in fighting foreign intervention by nations or liberation movements. This was seen in the successful Vietnamese experience against French and American invaders.xvi The example of the current Iraqi resistance against the foreign occupation by the United States and its allied countries illustrate how the use of land mines and IEDs against the far superior military power and might of the aggressors can be effective, if not crucial.
As aforesaid, land mines of various types are effectively used to discourage and frustrate enemy advances on the ground, to secure the perimeter of the armed revolutionary camps and to counter the more anti-civilian weapons mass of destruction used by the enemy (cruise missiles, bombardments, artillery fire, cluster bombs, DU-tipped explosives, white phosphorus, moabs, etc.). Without the so-called improvised explosive devices of the Iraqi people’s resistance, the US military forces would just be ridiculing and laughing at said resistance.”
REBUTTAL OF MALICIOUS CRITICISMS ON THE NDFP USE OF LAND MINES
The twisted charges and malicious attacks by the GRP as well as other individuals and groups on various issues like the use of land mines undermine the revolutionary struggle of the people as well as the integrity of NDFP. They have the purpose or objective result or effect of tying the hands of the revolutionary forces against attacks and repression.
These unfounded criticisms range from total misrepresentation of the facts, fabrication of allegations, misreading of the applicable principles or instruments of international humanitarian law on the matter,xviii selective campaigns against liberation and resistance movements in favor of the imperialist countries or simply excuses to vilify the revolutionary movement.
Time and again, the GRP has viciously twisted the effective use of land mines by the NPA against the GRP security forces. To cover its embarrassing defeats in the field and the losses to its armed forces, the GRP routinely portrays those killed or injured in action by or through the NPA’s use of command-detonated land mines or IEDs as purportedly engaged in non-military activities like “relief missions,” “humanitarian work,”, “medical missions,” or “engineering work,” a worn-out script that panders to false sympathy to the uninformed or uninitiated.
The GRP also peddles the self-serving and unsubstantiated claims by its Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that anti-personnel and claymore mines have been found in alleged abandoned NPA camps. To begin with, land mines can be described as either self-detonating or command-detonated only upon deployment in either way and not while they are still in stock or in the armory. It is known that claymore mines and other sophisticated landmines are not manufactured by the NPA but by the contractors of the Pentagon and are given by the US government as military assistance to the AFP for use against the NPA.
The GRP also betrays either its gross ignorance or persistent confusionxx or even engages in deliberate falsehood by incessantly claiming that the use of such land mines – without any qualification as to whether they are command-detonated or not – are supposedly in violation of international humanitarian law in general or even the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Ottawa Convention in particular.
The GRP also perorates without fail that the legitimate objects of military attack are “victims,” obscuring the plain fact that these GRP security forces are combatants who are performing essentially military functions or have treaded or intruded into NDFP territory to stage their aborted attacks against the NPA and the masses in the communities.
Interestingly, as in practically all nuisance complaints submitted with the NDFP Monitoring Committee for the CARHRIHL by the GRP and its agencies on alleged violations on human rights and international humanitarian law, there is a yawning paucity of evidence or substantiation in complaints on the use of land mines. They likewise contain general and even bare allegations and the GRP soldiers, policemen and paramilitary who are legitimate military targets are pictured as “victims.” The subject incidents are distorted from being legitimate military encounters or tactical offensives into sweeping violations of the laws of armed conflict.
Moreover, the GRP capitalizes and even corrupts the joint as well as separate duty of the NDFP against the use of land mines as institutionalized in the CARHRIHL. During the CARHRIHL negotiations, an expansive and unqualified provision against the use of land mines was proposed to be inserted by the GRP.
Having absolutely no disagreement on the perils of the use of land mines against civilians and civilian communities, the NDFP Negotiating Panel concurred with the proposal but with the clear understanding that it refers to attacks against civilians and not as a wholesale ban on the use of land mines as a legitimate weapon against legitimate military targets. To reflect this intent, the NDFP counter proposed that any provision on this score should be qualified with the phrase “against the people” but the same was asked to be removed by the GRP for reasons of its own.
Eventually, this point now appears in Part III on Respect for Human Rights in Article 2, paragraph 15, to wit:.
“The right not to be subjected to forced evacuations, food and other forms of economic blockades and indiscriminate bombings, shellings, strafing, gunfire and the use of landmines.”
But the context of the above provision would clearly show that the ban on the use of land mines was in reference to the protection of civilians and not as a prohibition against its use against legitimate military objects of attack. As a matter of fact, the plain reality shows that the other forms of violations preceding the insertion of the part on land mines pertain to acts systematically and incorrigibly committed by the GRP.
Furthermore, it should be noted well that this portion on the right not to be subjected to the use of land mines appears in Part III on Respect for Human Rights and not in Part IV of the CARHRIHL on Respect for International Humanitarian Law, which covers standards, principles and prohibited acts or conduct in an armed conflict between parties in armed conflict. Hence, the CARHRIHL prohibits that gunfire and land mines are directed against the civilian population solely or mainly. This, therefore, supports further the view that the use of land mines against military objects of attack is not prohibited even under this bilateral agreement.
In contrast, the GRP Army has been known in not a few instances to have used self-detonating anti-personnel land mines posing direct danger to the people. This type of land mines with detonating mechanisms could be triggered by any person or animal that steps on them and are indiscriminate as they cause immediate injury or death. In one instance, in an indiscriminate act of reprisal for losses arising from a successful NPA ambush, the Philippine Army planted such land mines in forested areas that were purposely placed along the trails that the masses take to reach their farms which further deprive the village people of the right to make a living.
In the same breath and effect, some rabid anti-communists and reactionary individuals posing as neutral academics or advocates for the ban on land mines peddle the same line of a total and wholesale ban without taking into true account the political, social and military realities of the armed conflict between a scheming and deceptive fascist army and the army of the people.
In a strained interpretation that is consistent with a prejudiced perspective, these vocal critics even go to the extent of equating any kind of anti-vehicle/tank land mines with contact/target detonated anti-personnel land mines, insinuating that the former should likewise be banned as they “victimize” even those who are legitimate military targets.
What these critics actually do is to deny reality, focus their target on the revolutionary movement and undermine the justness of the people’s war while at the same time openly siding with the GRP under the veneer and even livelihood of armchair advocacy or campaigns.
Populist and pacifist international non-governmental organizations have also ridden on the bandwagon of calling for a total prohibition of land mines. Some of them even push, quite self-righteously, and intended specifically and solely for armed groups like national liberation movements to sign certain documents in this regard.
The NDFP has not signed such symbolic documents for fundamental reasons. As very well put:
“What is objectionable to the aforesaid Deed of Commitment is that national liberation movements are pressured by imperialist-funded NGO to submit themselves to terms and language biased in favor of imperialist and reactionary states, to giving up land mines as the weapon of the revolutionary forces and people against an enemy that uses far more destructive weapons against the civilian population (bombardments, artillery fire, arson, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, daisy cutters, moabs, etc. and to make the revolutionary forces pledge to stop using “anti-personnel” mines and in that sense also anti-vehicle and anti-tank land mines because they are also “anti-personnel” (quite a semantic trickery).
“To increase their credibility, why not the anti-land mines campaigners devote more time and effort to campaigning against nuclear, biological and chemical and WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] cited above and against state terrorism and wars of aggression? “
As a final point, there is a lot of hypocrisy from critics of land mines especially the apologists or defenders of superpowers like the US who are known for the indiscriminate and vastly disproportionate use of warfare. The US is known to be the number one supplier, stockpiler, and user of land mines. Ignoring or even acquiescing to the pervasive use of land mines for instance in Guantanamo Bay demonstrates the bias of these critics or do-gooders against national liberation movements.
Indeed, those who call on the NPA to stop using command-detonated landmines should call on the US to stop launching catastrophic cruise missiles, dropping cluster bombs, using depleted uranium, and other weapons prohibited by the international laws on armed conflict. They should also demand that the GRP’s armed forces stop using attack planes, helicopter gunships and 101 mm. howitzers against civilian communities and suspected areas of the NPA. The US, which is the principal supplier of weapons to the GRP’s armed forces, itself refuses to sign the Ottawa Convention to ban anti-personnel mines. It has caused, for example, many casualties due to anti-personnel land mines around the Guantanamo Base in Cuba.
The NDFP, including the CPP, its liberation army the NPA, and the other allied underground revolutionary organizations, have been waging a just war against imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and domestic feudalism.
In its protracted people’s war, it has engaged in military offensives and defensives against the enemy, principally the reactionary, brutal and fascist AFP, the PNP, the paramilitary and vigilante groups and deaths quads of the GRP.
While the NDFP and the revolutionary people and forces have attained a status of belligerency in its decades-long struggle, it cannot normally be a signatory or party to international legal instruments in the community of nations. Even then, the NDFP has expressed and manifested its adherence to international humanitarian law in principle, practice and pronouncement even if it is generally not bound by it legally.
While it has adhered to the general principles of international humanitarian law in its conduct of the people’s war against the enemy, these principles have to be contextualized within the peculiar nature, organization and limitations of the revolutionary movement.
As a matter of principle, it does not use land mines indiscriminately especially against the civilian people. It has confined itself so far mainly to the use of “command-detonated” landmines against the enemy forces and vehicles.
Even then, it cannot tie its hands and be blindly bound by certain treaties, agreements or undertakings if these will weaken the revolutionary forces and their struggle while the imperialists and their local exploiting classes are given the superior advantage in further oppressing, suppressing, exploiting and repressing the forces of fundamental change.#