Peace advocates urge freedom for Fernandez, Lagtapon

‘Frank’s life would be better used in peace-work and dialogue, rather than have him languishing behind bars’

A church-based peace advocacy group called on the Philippine government to free National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Frank Fernandez and wife Cleofe Lagtapon after their conviction of illegal gun possession last June 29.

In a statement, the group Pilgrims for Peace (PfP) said they were surprised at the Taguig Regional Trial Court Branch 266’s verdict, more so that both Fernandez and Lagtapon were elderly and under medical treatment.

“As peace advocates, we continue to clamor that the golden years of Frank’s life would be better used in peace-work and dialogue, rather than have him languishing behind bars,” PfP’s statement said.

“This is especially so as his conviction is alleged to have been orchestrated using manufactured evidence, planted at the time of his arrest,” the group added.

PfP cited the couple’s defense that they were already under custody hours before their announced arrest and were in fact taken to and from a military hospital to have their photos taken with planted evidence of guns and explosives at the house they were staying in.

The couple was arrested in Barangay Calumpang, Liliw, Laguna on March 24 2019 while undergoing medical treatment with their caretaker Ge-Ann Perez, herself a Hansen’s Disease patient.

Like other NDFP peace consultants and companions arrested before and after, the three were alleged to be in possession of firearms and ammunition.

Supposedly immune from arrest

The PfP statement was signed by former Iglesia Filipina Independiente Obispo Maximo Rhee Timbang, Roman Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, Sr. Maureen Catabian of the Religious of the Good Shepherd and Dr. Mike Pante of ACT for Peace.

Fernandez was among several Roman Catholic priests who left active priestly duties to join the underground revolutionary movement during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. government in the early 1970s.

He served as a long-time spokesperson of the NDFP in Negros Island.

In 2017, Fernandez was included in the reconstituted list of consultants and resource persons that was deposited with the Bishop of Utrecht, the head of the global Old Catholic Church communion, in accordance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

With JASIG Document of Identification Number PP 978544, Fernandez should be immune from arrest, detention, threats and harassments, the NDFP said when he was arrested in 2019.

The 75-year old Fernandez is suffering from chronic artery disease, chronic stable angina, hypertension stage 2-uncontrolled, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hyponatremia, among other illnesses.

The 65-year old Lagtapon also suffers from various illnesses brought about by advancing age.

“As a peace consultant of the GRP-NDFP peace process, we urge for respect of Frank’s JASIG protection as well as humanitarian considerations given his advanced age,” the PfP said.

“Let us continue to pray for former priest, now NDFP peace consultant, Frank Fernandez… Let us pray the peace processes can resume so that genuine peace can take root in our country,” the group urged further. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)