Government: Nothing illegal in CPP-NPA leaders’ arrests

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Government officials refused to release two leaders of the Community Part of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), saying there was nothing illegal in their arrest on Saturday.

Communist rebels have demanded the release of Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the CPP, and his wife Wilma Austria, who were captured in Aloguinsan, Cebu on Saturday, March 22.

Luis Jalandoni, National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel chief, said the arrest of the couple was illegal and violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) signed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the CPP-NPA-NDF in 1995, as the two were consultants in stalled peace talks who were granted temporary immunity from arrests.

But the GPH peace panel headed by Alexander Padilla said: "The GPH panel believes otherwise. There has been no violation of the Jasig in these cases."

Padilla recalled that both the NDF and the GPH agreed to a procedure in July 2011 to verify the true identities of several dozen alleged NDF consultants in the list of Jasig–protected individuals carrying aliases.

A list of 75 rebel consultants supposedly with pictures was jointly deposited by the Philippine government, the rebels and church witnesses in a Dutch vault in 1996 so it could serve as a future basis for identifying guerrilla consultants who could be immune from arrests.

But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the said NDF consultants, said Padilla.

"This failure had the effect of rendering the Jasig inoperative for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace process," he added.

CPP-NPA leaders
Arrested CPP-NPA leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon. (Photos courtesy of AFP-PIO)

Padilla said if indeed Tiamson, CPP-NPA chairman, was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the Jasig.

Austria, secretary general of the CPP-NPA, on the other hand, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on December 26, 1989, when there were no peace talks, and six years before the Jasig came into effect.

This makes her ineligible for Jasig protection, even assuming she was identified in the Jasig list by her real name, Padilla said.

"To sustain their claim to Jasig protection is ridiculous because that would mean they can wage war and violence against government and when caught, claim Jasig protection and expect to be released. It is even more outrageous considering that the peace negotiations have not moved for over a year now," he added.

While the government continues to be open to the resumption of the talks, Padilla noted that last December, the CPP called for the overthrow of the Aquino government, saying they will just wait for a new administration before they go back to the table.

"The CPP-NPA is well aware of the effects of the failed verification. But they only have themselves to blame for rendering the Jasig inoperative for most of their alleged consultants," he said.

Aside from the Tiamzon couple, fives others were arrested, namely, Rex G. Villaflor of Makati City; Nona C. Castillo of Consolacion, Cebu; Joel E. Enano, of Buhatan, Sorsogon; Jeosi M. Nepa of Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu; and Arlene J. Panea of Mactan, Cebu.

AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista, in a press conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, said any legal questions on the arrest and processing of the apprehended individuals will be answered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), including applicability of Jasig to their arrest.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria does not change the basic stance of the government that peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA "can only proceed with a clear and time-bound agenda that provides some possibility of bringing us closer to a final peace agreement."

"We continue to hope that the leadership of CPP-NPA will come to the same conclusion sooner rather later," she added.

The Tiamzon couple and five others were transported to Manila on Saturday and were placed under the jurisdiction of the DOJ for inquest. They will be detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center at Camp Crame.

PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Director Benjamin Magalong said intelligence agents are now mining laptops and flask drives confiscated from the couple, which may contain valuable actionable intelligence, including plans and finances of the rebel movement. CIDG was part of the team that arrested the Tiamzons.

The Tiamzon couple was originally charged with multiple murder before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 18 in Hilongos, Leyte but the case was later transferred to Manila RTC branch 32 under Judge Mario Dela Cruz.

The charge is in relation to the involvement of the Tiamzons in the brutal killing of 15 civilians in Inopacan, Leyte who, military said, were buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 2006.

Benito Tiamzon was the secretary of the Eastern Visayas Regional Committee when the alleged murder of the civilians was committed.

The arrests were a big blow to the 45-year Marxist insurgency, one of Asia's longest. The rebels have been fighting since 1969, accusing successive Philippine administrations of subservience to United States interests and failing to improve the lives of the poor. Their numbers have dwindled amid battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism but the resilient guerrillas remain the country's most serious security threat. (SDR/Third Anne Peralta/AP/Sunnex)

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