Editorial: Big fish, small pond

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE fact that Cebu-based military and police officials kept uncharacteristically quiet about the capture of alleged Communist Party leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria is no surprise.

When such prominent targets get cornered, the bragging rights are usually reserved for the top brass. Indeed, President Benigno Aquino III had announced a week before the arrest that “big fish” would soon get caught.

However, local security and law enforcement officials have some questions coming their way.


First, how long had Tiamzon and Austria, allegedly the top two officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) been in Cebu? Two months, one police official said. Yet another report has it that the couple had been observed in their alleged safe house in San Fernando town for around a year.

Of the arrest itself, the accounts are conflicting, too. A police official described it as a routine checkpoint—making it seem that the couple and their five companions had wandered, like amateur gunrunners, into the authorities’ hands. But the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, in statements issued in Metro Manila, said the arrest resulted from a coordinated intelligence operation of both the military and police.

After last Saturday’s arrest, local police and military announced they were ready for any blowback, even as they said there was no organized NPA presence and no credible threat in Cebu. Before Tiamzon and Austria, the last arrest related to allegations of rebellion in Cebu was made back in February 2009, when Ramon Patriarca was caught in Casili, Consolacion. A court in Danao City ordered his release from detention last month.

Another question the local authorities need to address relates to their alleged refusal to allow Tiamzon, 63, and Austria, 61, to meet with a lawyer, while they were in the Central Command’s headquarters in Apas. Whether or not the couple’s safe-conduct passes, as peace negotiations “consultants,” were valid is open to debate and hardly a local concern.

But reassurances of Cebu’s safety from any threat would have been more credible, had the military’s local presence demonstrated more scrupulously a respect for the arrested couple’s rights.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 26, 2014.


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