A member of the Far Eastern University soccer team along with his cousin were riding their bicycles in their hometown last week when they ran over and detonated a landmine that had been planted by the New People’s Army (NPA), causing their instant death.

The NPA assumed full responsibility for the death of student-athlete Keith Absalon and his cousin Nolven Absalon in Barangay Anas, Masbate province.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), however, had another version of the tragedy, saying the killing of the pair was intentional on the part of the communist insurgents, who even made sure the two were dead by shooting them after they were injured by the explosion.

The NPA issued a public apology over social media: “The NPA takes full responsibility for the errors it committed when it mounted an offensive against government forces that led to the death of Keith and his cousin Nolven.”

Raymundo Buenfuerza, spokesman for the NPA’s Romulo Jallores Command, said the offensive was aimed at the military and was never meant to harm civilians.

“We ask for forgiveness to the family and the public,” Buenfuerza said.

A separate organization within the NPA, the Jose Rapsing Command of the Bagong Hukbong Bayan in the Bicol region, said it would investigate the incident, saying, “From this mistake, it would strictly instill disciplinary action among the revolutionary command.”

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said it would pursue members of the NPA responsible for the attack on the 21-year-old athlete and his cousin.

PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar said he had ordered a manhunt operation against the suspects, even as he ordered local police to enhance visibility in the area.

Said Eleazar: “I am directing the local police to coordinate with the military and launch manhunt operations against the suspects.”

He added that they would not stop until justice was served.

AFP Chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana lambasted the NPA, saying the attack on the two young men was a “violation of the International Humanitarian Law.”

He said the NPA was “anti-people” and were thus “worthy of the Filipinos’ condemnation.”

FEU and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) mourned the passing of Keith Absalon, who came from a family of soccer players.

His sister Natalie is with the University of Santo Tomas women’s team, while younger brother Karl is with FEU’s high school team.

Calling the fallen Keith, a “model student-athlete,” the UAAP cited him as an outstanding product of FEU’s football program. He not only won Most Valuable Player honors while with the school’s high school team. He also represented the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Football Federation Under-19 Championships.

The Philippine Football Federation offered the family their condolences and promised to provide financial assistance, according to PFF President Nonong Araneta.

Vice-president Leni Robredo offered her condolences to the family, even as she blamed the NPA for its use of a weapon that has been outlawed by the United Nations.

Two senators – Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros – condemned the killing of the pair and said the rebels guilty of the attack should be captured and charged.

The government called on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to surrender the NPA rebels responsible for the attack, with Interior Sec. Eduardo Ano saying that since the NPA had already taken responsibility for the deadly attack, “it now becomes their duty to turn over the terrorists responsible for the deaths so that justice may be served to their families and loved ones.”

The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP, both of which are under the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. They have been waging a guerilla war against the government since the 1960s, making them the oldest active communist insurgency in the world.

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