UPDATED: 3:30 PM
THE National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced that the “top New People’s Army Commander” arrested Thursday night in Ozamiz City along with an Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) bishop is a consultant in its peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).
In a statement, NDFP’s chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said Rommel Salinas is a Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)-protected person with Document of Identification Number ND-978453 under the name of Hermie Abella.
Salinas was arrested with IFI Ozamiz Bishop Carlo Morales and two others last May 11 at six o’clock in the evening by Philippine National Police and Philippine Army (PA) forces at a checkpoint.
The PA’s 1st Infantry Division said Salinas (alias Venico, Beto, Carlos, Doming, Artem and Mark) is a top New People’s Army commander in Western Mindanao.
Salinas is reportedly facing criminal charges for destructive arson, murder, frustrated murder, attempted murder and robbery in band.
The PA added a hand grenade was allegedly seized from Salinas upon arrest.
Salinas’ arrest is “another clear violation of the JASIG,” Agcaoili said.
Online news site Interaksyon reported that, according to accounts from the IFI, Salinas “presented his ID as an NDFP consultant and JASIG holder” and informed the soldiers and police who stopped them that “the purpose of his travel is to campaign for the fifth round of the formal talks between (the government) and NDFP.”
The NDFP strongly condemned the arrests.
“It is obvious from the narration of events that Salinas had been conducting consultations with various sectors, including the religious, when he was arrested,” it said.
Meanwhile, Morales’ wife Darling Losaria Morales and their driver Isadome Dalid have been set free by the Ozamiz PNP, according to Fr. Dionito Cabillas, an IFI priest, announced on his Facebook page this morning.
Quoting an inquest memorandum by Fiscal Noel Boter, Cabillas said the bishop and Salinas remain in police custody for the non-bailable offense of illegal possession of explosives.
Proceedings against the two detainees will resume on Monday, Cabillas.
NDFP consultants in danger
The NDFP also assailed “growing threats” against its peace consultants, citing a series of incidents since the start of the year.
Just last Tuesday, NDFP Panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultant Wilma Austria-Tiamzon were tailed by motorcycle-riding men after their meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañan Palace and meeting with Tagum City farmers in their camp out on Mendiola Bridge.
The Tiamzons tried to shake off their tail aboard an RS motorcycle with partial license plate number 2419 for about half an hour before deciding to return to the Mendiola camp out, from where friends and comrades helped them evade their pursuers.
The Tiamzons noticed that the back rider was constantly talking to someone on his mobile phone while tailing them.
At the camp out, witnesses observed the motorcycle riders following the Tiamzons and mingling with the crowd to avoid detection.
They were reportedly backed up by at least two other teams of two men each who also monitored the couple’s movements.
They were also tailed in March after their arrival from backchannel talks in The Netherlands.
Earlier, suspected military agents had interrogated the driver of a rented car used by the Tiamzons upon their arrival last January from the third round of formal peace negotiations with the GRP.
The NDFP said consultants who have also complained of surveillance include Ruben Saluta, Concha Araneta, Tirso Alcantara, Ernesto Lorenzo and Kennedy Bangibang.
Several consultants were also threatened with re-arrest when the peace talks collapsed last February.
Agcaoili urged the GRP to look seriously into these incidents and take whatever measures are necessary, saying they may have severe repercussions on the ongoing peace negotiations.
He also expressed “grave concern” about reports that the military in Northern Mindanao had issued shoot-to-kill orders against NDFP consultant Pedro Codaste while the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command was planning to abduct Porferio Tuna, another Mindanao-based consultant.
The NDFP and the GRP are set to hold their fifth round of formal negotiations in Noordwijk Aan Zee, The Netherlands on May 27 to June 2. # (Raymund B. Villanueva/Photo by Jon Bustamante)