Elderly NDFP peace consultant arrested in Samar

Another National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant has been arrested and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has demanded his immediate release.

The CPP said Esteban Manuel was arrested last February 16 in Villareal town, Samar by the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Joint Task Force Storm, along with another civilian.

“Ka Esteban holds official documents of identification under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG),” the CPP said.

The agreement, signed between the GRP and the NDFP in 1995, provides guarantees for negotiators, personnel and consultants of both parties against reprisals, including surveillance and arrests.

“We denounce the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for filing trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against Ka Esteban, who is around 70 years old,” the CPP said.

The CPP said claims of the military that a fragmentation grenade and a cal.45 pistol were seized from Esteban are false.

“All of these are planted evidences to charge him with an non-bailable crime and thus prolong his detention,” it added.

Manuel is the latest in a string of arrests of consultants and staff since GRP President Rodrigo Duterte abandoned its once fruitful peace negotiations with the NDFP in June 2017.

Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre, Alfredo Mapano, Loida Magpatoc, and Adelberto Silva and Renante Gamara have been re-arrested since then.

Ferdinand Castillo had been arrested on Febuary 12, 2017 while the talks were still ongoing.

NDFP peace consultants Rafael Baylosis and Esterlita Suaybaguio were also separately arrested after the termination of the talks but were freed by trial courts due to lack of evidence on charges of illegal possession of guns and explosives.

Meanwhile, Randy Malayao, Randall Echanis, Eugenia Magpantay, Agaton Topacio, Julius Giron, Pedro Codaste, Antonio Cabanatan, Florenda Yap, Reynaldo Bocala and Rustico Tan were killed or have died in various military operations since talks broke down.

The CPP called on local and international human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as peace advocates, to extend assistance to Manuel.

“He must be immediately afforded legal representation. We enjoin all democratic forces to close ranks and raise the demand for Ka Esteban to be immediately released,” it said.

The group added that Manuel’s arrest forms part of the Duterte regime’s campaign of terror and suppression against the people of Eastern Visayas it said has one of the highest number of human rights abuses since it was placed under military and police rule with the implementation of Duterte’s Memorandum Order No. 32 in 2018.

The CPP said cases of aerial bombing and shelling have risen in Eastern Visayas, including a growing number of communities that have been placed under military occupation and subjected to abuses.

“From 2020, at least 12 cases of indiscriminate firing have been recorded. The Filipino people must stand united and demand an immediate stop to this campaign of terror against the region,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)