Narrative Battle Surrounds Killings of Communist Insurgent Couple in the Philippines

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 11

Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Austria-Tiamzon in 2016 via the Manila Standard

On April 20, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) confirmed the deaths of Benito Tiamzon (Ka Laan) and his wife Wilma Austria-Tiamzon (Ka Bagong-tao). The 71-year old Benito was the Chairman of the CPP Executive Committee, while the 70-year old Wilma was the CPP’s Secretary General. According to the CPP, they were travelling with a subregional secretary of Eastern Visayas and several guerrilla fighters in Samar province, when they lost contact with the CPP/New People’s Army (NPA) on August 21, 2022 (PRWC, April 20).

The CPP claims the Tiamzons were in two separate vans on the national highway heading east towards Catbalogan City, when they were flagged down around noon, at which point communications were lost. The group also asserts that the Tiamzons and accompanying militants were unarmed when they went offline (PRWC, April 20). However, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) present a much different story about what happened to Benito and Wilma.

Narrative Wars

The narrative wars between the two sides are quite common and break out virtually every time a prominent Communist figure is killed by security forces. This could, for example, be observed following the killing of the legendary 50-year veteran guerrilla leader Ka Oris (Comrade Jorge Madlos) (PRWC, November 2, 2021). In this instance, the CPP alleged he was unarmed and heading to receive medical treatment when he was “murdered in cold blood,” whereas the AFP claimed he was killed in an armed encounter with the military (Philippine News Agency, October 31, 2021).

In the case of the Tiamzons, the AFP claims that the couple were killed after the boat they were on exploded, during a maritime clash with forces of the Joint Task Force Storm, the 8th Infantry Division, and the US-trained Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident (PRWC, April 20). Philippine media and the AFP reported on the supposed clash in August 2022, but could not confirm the rumors that Benito and Wilma were killed until recently (Manila Standard, August 23, 2022).

Although the Tiamzons disappeared in August, the CPP claims it “took several weeks to establish the veracity of the reports which the [AFP] released around that time,” and “it also had to conduct months of investigation to piece together the details of the capture and subsequent massacre of the Tiamzons” (PRWC, April 20). The CPP states that its Central Committee collected evidence indicating that “the Tiamzons suffered severe beating in the hands of their captors” and “internal reports cited witnesses who saw how the faces and bodies of the victims were smashed, apparently beaten with hard objects.”

Philippine National Security Council Director General and National Security Adviser Eduardo M. Año welcomed the news of the Tiamzons’ deaths. He claimed that: “Finally, the terrorists have been forced to admit what many of us have suspected many, many months ago,” adding that “[t]hey are now trapped in their own web of lies which deserves scant comment. Needless to say, there is no truth whatsoever in this clearly fabricated story and we stand by the official reports from the AFP” (Philippine News Agency, April 20).

Losing Prominent Leaders

The losses of Benito and Wilma are representative of a larger trend, as the AFP and police forces aggressively track and target high ranking Communist insurgent leaders across the country. The Philippines’ National Security Adviser assesses the Tiamzons’ deaths to be a major blow to the Communist insurgency, arguing:

“With the death of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison and now the Tiamzon couple, the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) is now headless with no clear national leadership. They have lost both their guiding light in the person of Joma and their commander in the Tiamzons and are now groping in the dark with no direction nor future in sight” (PhilStar Global, April 21).

His mention of “Joma” refers to the founding chairman of the Communist insurgency movement, Jose Maria Sison, who died of natural causes in December 2022. The Philippine government declared that: “The death of Jose Maria Sison is but a symbol of the crumbling hierarchy of the [CPP/NPA-National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Philippines], which he founded to violently put himself in power” (PhilStar Global, December 17, 2022). The CPP-NPA has also lost prominent Negros regional commander Juanito Magbanua and other top figures in the last few years, to include Ka Oris and his son (Philippine News Agency, October 11, 2022).


The Tiamzons were renowned leaders in the Philippine Communist insurgency movement and CPP-NPA units all over the country commemorated their deaths. Various regional branches published photos of Communist fighters gathering and giving them 21 gun salutes (PRWC, April 21). The AFP continues to vigorously pursue the CPP-NPA’s leadership, which has yielded success in recent years. The new administration of Marcos Jr. has pledged to track and hunt regional and national Communist officials (Philippine News Agency, August 10, 2022). Given this expression of will and the record of successful leader-targeted counter-insurgency operations, it is likely that the Philippine military will continue to degrade the CPP-NPA’s leadership in the coming months.