National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Frank Fernandez and wife Cleofe Lagtapon were convicted of illegal possession of firearms by Branch 266 of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC), human rights group Karapatan reported.
Karapatan said that while the couple were acquitted from additional charges of illegal possession of explosives and violation of the elections gun ban at the time of their arrest, they were found guilty of what they asserted was the first of three “trumped-up charges.”
Their companion Ge-ann Perez, arrested and charged along with the elderly couple, is acquitted of all charges by the court.
The three were arrested in Barangay Calumpang, Liliw, Laguna on March 24 2019 and, like other NDFP peace consultants and companions arrested before and after, were reportedly found to be in possession of firearms, ammunition and grenades.
At the time of their arrest, then Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde claimed they found three caliber .45 pistols, three magazines with 15 live bullets and three grenades were in the couple’s possession.
They were then charged with violation of Commission on Election (Comelec) Resolution 10429 in relation to the Omnibus Election Code as well as violation of Republic Act 10591 (Illegal possession of firearms) and violation of Republic Act 9516 (Illegal possession of explosives), the PNP said.
A Roman Catholic priest, Fernandez took leave from his church in the 1970s, went underground and became a long-time NDFP spokesperson in Negros Island prior to their arrest.
The NDFP said Fernandez should not have been arrested as he is protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees between them and the Manila government with Document of Identification Number PP 978544.
Karapatan condemned the Fernandez and Lagtapon’s conviction, adding it supports the couple’s assertion that the trove of grenades and guns used against them were planted by arresting authorities.
The group said it was absurd that two elderly and sick individuals had the items in their possession.
Fernandez’ medical abstract by the Philippine Army General Hospital immediately after their arrest said he suffers from chronic artery disease, chronic stable angina, hypertension stage 2- uncontrolled, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hyponatremia, among other illnesses.
Fernandez is 75 years old while Lagtapon is 65.
“The inconsistencies in the details of their arrest based on the accounts of the arresting authorities further reveal this glaring travesty of justice,” Karapatan said.
“We reiterate the call for the immediate release of the Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez, and all political prisoners subjected to these forms of political persecution,” Karapatan added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)