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Suaybaguio’s arrest another obstacle to peace talks resumption–NDFP

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) condemned the arrest of another of its peace consultant Monday, calling it “another obstacle to peace.”

“The Duterte regime remains on a fascist rampage that adds more and more obstacles to the resumption of the peace negotiations with the NDFP,” its negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

In a statement, Agcaoili said Esterlita Suaybaguio, arrested by police operatives in an apartment building in Quezon City Monday, August 26, is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with Document of Identification (DI) Number ND 978447 as second consultant for Mindanao.

Under JASIG, peace consultants and staff from both the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) enjoy “immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement and participation in the peace negotiations.”

“A copy of her DI is deposited in the safety deposit box under the name of Archbishop Joris A.O.L. Vercammen,” Agcaoili said. Vercammen belongs to The Old Catholic Church of The Netherlands.

In July 12, 2017, former government peace negotiators Hernani Braganza and Angela L. Trinidad and Philippine Ambassador to The Netherlands Jamie Ledda witnessed the consignment of the NDFP list with Vercammen.

In July 2017, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said that then GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III issued Letters of Authority (LA) to the JASIG-covered rebel consultants they could present to police authorities and military in case they are held or arrested.

The Philippine National Police said they confiscated a handgun, bullets and grenade from Suaybaguio’s apartment, an offense it charged all other arrested NDFP peace consultants and staff with since the GRP walked away from the peace negotiations in June 2017.

“Instead of promoting just peace, the Duterte regime and its military even send psywar (psychological warfare) and spy teams in schools and communities and even abroad to muddle the facts about the peace talks, sow disinformation on activist organizations and NGOs, and hide the widespread extrajudicial killings and rampant human rights violations in the country,” Agcaoili said.

“The NDFP Negotiating Panel calls for the immediate release of Suaybaguio and the dropping of false charges against her, as well as the scores of other detained NDFP consultants and personnel,” Agcaoili added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP peace consultant arrested, charged with possession of firearms and grenade

Philippine National Police (PNP) operatives arrested a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant at 1:50 AM Monday, August  26, in an apartment building in Cubao, Quezon City.

Esterlita Suaybaguio is currently being held at Camp Karingal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District.

An Abante report said the raid was by virtue of a search warrant issued by QC Regional Trial Court Branch 89 Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert against Suaybaguio for alleged violations of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act and the Unlawful Manufacture, Sales, Acquisition, Disposition, Importation or Possession of an Explosive or Incendiary Device Act.

The same charges have been filed against arrested NDFP peace consultants and staff, including  Rafael Baylosis, Vicente Ladlad, Adelberto Silva, Renante Gamara, Rey Claro Casambre, Frank Fernandez and Alexander and Winona Birondo.

Persons arrested with the said peace consultants and staff were also similarly charged.

Abante reported the police confiscated a 9mm handgun, a magazine with seven bullets, a hand grenade and so-called subversive documents from Suaybaguio.

Kodao sources said Suaybaguio is in possession of a Document of Identification as NDFP peace consultant.

As a peace consultant, Suaybaguio is supposedly exempt from surveillance and arrest under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Her arrest happened on the third anniversary of the end of the first round of formal talks between the NDFP and the Rodrigo Duterte government when all previously signed agreements were reaffirmed by both parties, including the JASIG. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Despite orders, PNP refuses to free NDFP peace talks staff

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace talks staff Alex and Winona Birondo have yet to be freed by the Philippine National Police from detention despite orders by Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office (QCPO) for their release from detention, their lawyers reported.

In a press statement, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said the couple were due for release last Friday, August 2, after charges against them by policemen failed to prosper in court.

Two sets of charges against the Birondos have been referred from inquest to preliminary investigation by the prosecutors allowing their release from detention, the PILC said through its managing counsel Atty Rachel Pastores.

“In separate orders, prosecutors were hard put to find probable cause against the Birondos who were accused first of obstruction of justice and direct assault and later of illegal possession of firearms and explosives,” Pastores said.

“Significantly, there is no evidence on record which shows that respondents were ever found of seen living in or were ever inside the searched premises where the items were found,” Assistant City Prosecutor Eviess JSA Acorda said in her resolution obtained by Kodao.

The prosecutor was referring to the firearms, ammunition and explosives the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) claimed they found in the Barangay Mariblo apartment were the Birondos were arrested last July 23.

On the charges that the Birondos assaulted police officers who raided their apartment, the QCPO in another resolution said the police did not only fail to mention if they identified themselves as PNP members during the incident but they also failed to fully explain how the couple were able to block the four officers.

“We take note of the fact that there were four arresting officers vis a vis the two respondents. Considering the disparity in numbers, there should be an explanation as to how the respondents actually blocked their way,” the second resolution, signed by Assistant City Prosecutor Arceli Bagsac, said.

Both resolutions directed the QCPD to release the elderly and ailing Birondos.

The PILC condemned the police’s refusal to follow the legal orders, saying that while the police have been quick to the draw with the arrest, but slow pokes when it comes to releases.

“Despite the clear orders, the Birondos remain in detention at Camp Caringal, with the police citing procedural requirements,” Pastores said.

“The police have been caught up in their own yarn of lies, which were starkly exposed under legal scrutiny,” she added.

Pastores said the police face significant counter-suits for violation of administrative procedures and criminal laws.

She also called on the government to stop the filing of trumped-up charges against those involved in the peace talks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Again, possession of guns and explosives charges vs NDFP peace panel staff members

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) alleged that arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel staff members Alexander and Winona Birondo kept guns, ammunition and explosives when they were arrested early Tuesday morning, July 23.

As they did with the five NDFP peace consultants arrested since President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled the peace negotiations in November 2017, the PNP and AFP charged the couple with violations of anti-gun and anti-explosives laws.

The couple were arrested in an apartment building in Barangay Mariblo, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City despite protesting that the warrant of arrest shown them was from a case that was already dismissed last year.

After the couple were brought and detained at Camp Caringal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District early yesterday morning, the police and the military conducted a search of their apartment  more than 16 hours after their arrest.

“[A]t about 10:00 PM, July 23, 2019, the same personnel from AFP and PNP implemented search warrant No. 5898 (19) and 5899 (19) issued by Hon. Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos-Villavert for violation of RA (Republic Act) 10591 and RA 9516 at the safe house of the arrested couple after validated information that they are keeping firearms, explosives and ammunition in the said place,” the police and military press release said.

RA 10591 is the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act while RA 9516 is the Unlawful Manufacture, Sales, Acquisition, Disposition, Importation or Possession of an Explosive or Incendiary Device law, violations of which are non-bailable.

The police and the military said they seized a .45 caliber pistol, a magazine with seven live ammunition, a holster, a hand grenade, a 40mm high explosive rifkle grenade, and a roll of detonating cord from the couple’s apartment.

They further alleged that Alexander is a staff of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) “National Education Commission” while Winona is the secretary of the CPP-New People’s Army’s “National Propaganda Commission”.

The Birondos were also arrested for obstruction of justice and direct assault after they allegedly blocked police officers from arresting a certain Rolando Caballero, alias Jet, who was reportedly wanted for murder.

This morning, however, the Birondo’s lawyers said the charges against thje couple were contrived “eerily similar to imaginary ‘buy-bust’ operations” of the police.

“Having verified that there are no standing warrants against the two, the police in an ill-prepared complaint, said that they did have one against a third person totally unknown to the Birondo spouses,” Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores said in a statemet.

Pastores said there was no trace or evidence of a third person in the small studio-type apartment.

“This premise is dangerous; the police concocted the charges on the claims of a confidential informant, who may not be compelled to show up in court and may not exist at all,” Pastores said.

Since January 2018, the police have filed the same charges against NDFP peace consultants Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre and Frank Fernandez.

Baylosis, however, was freed last January after being cleared by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court of the charges.

NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili demanded the release of the NDFP peace panel consultants and staff members, saying all should be immune from surveillance and arrests under their Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP arrests NDFP staff Alex and Nona Birondo

Two National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel staff members were arrested early Tuesday morning, July 23, human rights lawyers of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) announced today.

Couple Alexander and Winona Birondo were arrested by combined elements of the District Special Operations Unit and the Criminal Investigation Detection Unit of the Quezon City Police District of the Philippine National Police at an apartment building in Barangay Mariblo, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City at around 5:30 in the morning.

Alex and Nona served as members of the NDFP’s peace talks secretariat from the second round of formal talks in 2016 up to the time the Rodrigo Duterte walked away from the negotiations in 2018.

They were supposed to join the NDFP delegation as early as August 2016 but the Department of Foreign Affairs failed to provide them new passports in time for the resumption of the negotiations in Oslo, Norway.

Before their arrest Tuesday, the couple were charged illegal possession of firearms and explosives, but released in August 2016 for the peace talks. Their case was eventually dismissed in June 2018.

The police made the couple believe they had warrants of arrest and brought them to Camp Caringal, the PILC said.

Winona Birondo at Camp Caringal. (PILC photo)

“Even after they argued that the warrant was outdated and showed the dismissal order, they were taken to Camp Caringal where the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit and the District Special Operations Unit desperately scrambled to add charges,” PILC managing counsel Rachel Pastores said in a statement.

Pastores said that new and unfounded cases of obstruction of justice and direct assault were filed against the Birondos at the Quezon City Prosecutors’ Office.

“Having verified that there are no standing warrants against the two, the police in an ill-prepared complaint, said that they did have one against a third person totally unknown to the Birondo spouses,” Pastores said.

The police said that the Birondos were harboring a fugitive in their apartment and allowed him to escape when the police were about to arrive.

Pastores said there was no trace or evidence of a third person in the small studio-type apartment.

“This type of contrivance is eerily similar to imaginary ‘buy-bust’ operations. This premise is dangerous; the police concocted the charges on the claims of a confidential informant, who may not be compelled to show up in court and may not exist at all,” Pastores said.

Alex Birondo preparing his medicines at Camp Caringal yesterday. (PILC photo)

The Birondos are the sixth and seventh who participated in the peace talks in 2016 to be arrested and charged by the Duterte government.

NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili condemned the latest arrests, saying the couple should be immune from surveillance and arrests under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

“Alex and Nona acquired JASIG protection because of their stint as NDFP staff in the peace talks,” Agcaoili told Kodao.

“We condemn the government’s arrest of persons without warrants and whose cases have been dropped, as in the case of the Birondos,” he added.

Both in their 60s, the Birondos are known to be suffering from illnesses. Alex takes insulin shots for his severe diabetes. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyer, doctor refused from seeing Frank Fernandez

A lawyer assisting arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Frank Fernandez complained of being repeatedly barred from visiting and consulting with her client at the Philippine Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Atty. Kristina Conti of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said that she has twice been refused from seeing Fernandez and his fellow detainees at the hospital even if she is allowed by law to do so.

“For the second time at Gate 6 of Fort Bonifacio, I have been denied access by MPBn (Military Police Battalion) chief Capt. Andres B. Ramirez upon instructions of his ‘higher-ups,’” Conti said on her Facebook account late Tuesday night.

Conti said that Captain Ramirez in fact told her she can visit Fernandez, his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and Geann Perez, who are all confined in the said hospital.

“Yesterday (Monday), he denied that a Frank or Francisco Fernandez was confined in the Army General Hospital. Today he reverses, but tells me that I can visit ‘anytime’ but only between 11am-4pm,” Conti said.

The lawyer said the military is violating Republic Act 7438, the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or under Custodial Investigation Law.

The law says lawyers, doctors, priests or spiritual adviser cannot be denied access any time, which Conti said Ramirez is disregarding.

“What’s roundly dissonant for me as a lawyer is the police posturing that this was a legitimate law enforcement operation, specifically arrest due to a lawful warrant. Yet, when I asked either Calabarzon Police Regional Director Edward Carranza or Laguna Police Provincial Chief Eleazar Matta for access they defer to the military,” Conti said.

Conti asked the military to be upfront if the three detainees are being treated as prisoners of war and under military custody instead of the police.

If the three are POWs, they should be treated as hors de combat, or out of action due to injury or damage, the lawyer explained.

’Wag nyo na kami paikut-ikutin, literally and figuratively,” she said. (Do not try to fool us and make us run around.)

Conti said she wonders what excuses the military will use the next time she tries to visit her clients.

Kelangan naka-sapatos? Naka-white? May strip search? Walang cellphone? Anong patakaran sa kampo na naman ang mangingibabaw sa civilian law enforcement/judicial orders?” she asked (Do I need to wear shoes? Wear white? Will they conduct a strip-search? What camp policies will they say lords over civilian law enforcement/judicial orders?)

“Martial law ba ulit?” she asked. (Is it Martial Law all over again?)

Doctor also turned away

Conti also revealed that an unnamed doctor sent to check on the three detainees was turned away.

“Earlier we sent a doctor, who came within the time stated by Capt. Ramirez, to check (on) the three. He was rebuffed, even if the inquest prosecutor’s resolution specified that Fr. Frank should see his doctor of choice,” Conti revealed.

Conti said Fernandez reported to the Sta. Cruz, Laguna inquest fiscal Monday evening that he is suffering from incessant interrogation by military agents, depriving him of sleep and affecting his general health.

Fernandez is reported to having heart and lung ailments the lawyer said need special attention.

“His condition, fluctuating BP (blood pressure) and all, is very worrisome. The military even had to pull into Asian Hospital on March 24 while they were taking him to Manila from Laguna because he was slurring his speech a bit,” Conti said.

The lawyer said it is suspected the former Roman Catholic priest and long-time NDFP spokesperson in Negros suffered a mild stroke or heart attack.

 “[Y]et he has not been allowed to choose a doctor or specialist. I am not too sure the Army General Hospital can take care of his needs – and in the first place, if it is in their interest (to do so),” the lawyer said.

Lagtapon is reported to be suffering from frail health while Perez is being treated for Hansen’s Disease.

Conti recalled previous clients who were sick while in prison and eventually died under detention.

“My experience with sick political prisoners is marred by deaths. Diona Andrea Rosal, stillborn, because his mother was under too much stress. Eduardo Serrano, Bernabe Ocasla, Alex Arias who suffered heart attacks in jail. My fervent hope is he does not join this mater dolorosa list,” she said.

She cautioned the military to treat the three detainees humanely.

“I understand the context is war – and two sides are at odds. Pero bawal bang maging makatao ‘pag magkaaway? Kung kaya ng isa, kaya din naman ng kabila, di ba?” she asked. (Isn’t it possible that both sides treat each other humanely? If one side can do it, the other side also can.)

Conti said that killing Fernandez while under government custody would not be killing the Communist Party-led revolution but is actually killing the peace. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine Army holding Frank Fernandez incommunicado

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) strongly condemned what it calls the unjust arrest of another of its peace consultants and his companions last Sunday in Laguna Province.

In a statement, NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili demanded that the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) immediately release Francisco “Ka Frank” Fernandez and his companions “as a matter of principle, justice and humanity.”

“Frank Fernandez is a publicly known consultant of the NDFP in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as NDFP spokesperson in Negros,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili said 71-year old Fernandez has been ill for some time had to come down from Negros for medical treatment, accompanied by his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and Gee-Ann Perez.

Where are they?

The NDFP said details of where Fernandez and companions are incarcerated are still unclear.

“This poses grave danger to their health and lives. It is incumbent upon their custodial units to forthwith present Frank Fernandez and his companions to their relatives and lawyers in order for him to receive his medicines and assure that their rights and well-being are respected,” Agcaoili said.

Philippine National Police Region IV-A director Chief Superintendent Ted Carranza told reporters Monday that Fernandez was taken to the Philippine Army Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City after the arrest.

“Well, alam niyo kasi itong si Fr. Frank Fernandez ay matanda na. I just talked with an officer from the Philippine Army, nag-complain siya (Fernandez) ng chest pain after his arrest. So he was sent to the army hospital for treatment,” Carranza said.

It was not known whether Fernandez is still confined at the said hospital as human rights defenders and public interest lawyers are still being prevented from seeing the detainees.

In his press conference at Camp Crame yesterday, PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said Fernandez and his companions are under the custody of the Philippine Army’s Military Intelligence Group of Calabarzon reportedly based in Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna.

“With his unjust arrest, the Duterte regime runs the risk of adding another detainee to the list of three political prisoners who died in prison from June 2016, in violation of international humanitarian law and the minimum prison standards recognized by civilized nations,” Agcaoili said.

JASIG-protected

Agcaoili said Fernandez, a former Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Bacolod before becoming a rebel leader in Negros, holds Document of Identification Number PP 978544 as provided for in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the GRP and the NDFP.

Agcaoili also dismissed Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Junior’s claim that the JASIG is already inoperable in accordance with GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of the peace talks in November 2017.

Agcaoili said JASIG’s termination requires a protocol, a move the NDFP said Duterte failed to follow with his unilateral termination of the peace talks through Proclamation No. 360.

The NDFP Negotiating Panel earlier said the GRP has not formally given them a letter of termination through the Third Party Facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, rendering Duterte’s Proclamation No. 360 moot and the JASIG still operable.

“So, no matter how many times President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally flip-flops from resuming and then terminating the peace talks, the JASIG remains in full force and effect unless otherwise terminated according to the terms of the agreement,” Agcaoili said.

“In fact the immunity guarantees of Frank Fernandez extend even after the actual termination of the peace talks,” he explained. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP agents arrest NDFP peace consultant Renante Gamara

A National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant was arrested by combined police, military and intelligence agents Wednesday night two days after President Rodrigo Duterte dissolved his government’s negotiating panel with the Left.

Renante Gamara, NDFP peace consultant for the National Capital Region, was arrested by the Regional Special Operations Unit of the National Capital Region Police Office-Philippine National Police, Philippine Army and intelligence agents last night and was first brought to Camp General Pantaleon Garcia in Imus, Cavite.

An alert from peasant group Kasama-Timog Katagalugan said Gamara and his captors arrived at the camp at around 10:30 in the evening but left at about 11:06 in the evening.

The group said they have yet to know where Gamara was arrested.

Human rights workers who reportedly tried to check on Gamara were refused entry to the camp and were forced to keep vigil outside the gates throughout last night.

Their pictures were also reportedly taken by police officers.

This morning, a source close to Gamara’s family told Kodao that the peace consultant is currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Gamara was among the NDFP peace consultant released in August 2016 to participate in formal peace negotiations in Europe.

Gamara’s re-arrest brings to four the number of NDFP peace consultants behind bars.

Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Rey Claro Casambre were arrested in succession late last year after repeated attempts to revive the stalled peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP failed.

Rafael Baylosis was first arrested in January 2018 but was eventually released last January 18 after the Quezon City Regional Trial Court threw out trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives against him.

Twelve days later, NDFP peace consultant Randy Felix Malayao was killed inside a bus in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya last January 30.

Last Monday, March 18, Duterte dissolved the GRP Negotiating Panel and fired all its members.

In a statement Wednesday, new Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. said the GRP has suspended the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) that should provide immunity to peace negotiators from arrest and harassment.

The NDFP for its part has repeatedly said that the JASIG remains in place until a month after both parties have mutually and formally agreed to finally end the peace process in accordance with agreed-upon procedures.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activists express incredulity at Casambres’ arrest

The morning after couple Rey and Cora Casambre were arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police, activists trooped to Camp Crame in Quezon City to demand their immediate release.

In their protest rally, the activists expressed incredulity in the brazenness of the police officers in presenting trumped-up charges against Rey as well as their lie that the couple was in possession of a gun and a grenade when arrested in Molino, Bacoor, Cavite early Friday morning.

The activists said that no way did Rey participate in an ambush by the New People’s Army in Davao Oriental last October. # (Video by Carlo Francisco)

 

 

 

Families, rights groups mark Political Prisoners Day

Relatives and human rights groups led by the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights marched to Mendiola in Manila, December 3, to commemorate International Solidarity Day for Political Prisoners and call for the release of all political detainees.

Karapatan said that political prisoners  are proof of an unjust system as well as double standards in which “rule of law” inevitably translates to the rule of rulers.

Recent cases of illegal arrests by the police and military’s continued use of planted evidence, twisted ploys, and ridiculous narratives to jail rights activists and progressive leaders of organizations and communities [are rampant},” Karapatan added.

Karapatan said that there are 540 political prisoners all over the country as of November 2018, 203 of whom were arrested under the Duterte regime.

One hundred forty of the detainees are sickly, 40 are elderly and 56 are women, Karapatan said.

Lengua De Guzman, daughter of National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultant Rafael Baylosis and wife of union organizer Maoj Maga, said that since November 2017 when Duterte implemented a crackdown against activists and peace consultants, fabricated cases and planting of evidences became the usual pattern of the state forces in their operations.

Aside from cases involving her father and husband, similar incidents happened to government employees organizers like Bob Reyes, the couple Oliver and Rowena Rosales, trade union organizer Ireneo Atadero, women advocate Hedda Calderon and peace consultants Adelberto Silva and Vicente Ladlad, de guzman said.

Karapatan reiterated that political prisoners should be immediately released on just and humanitarian grounds and as a matter of justice.

The Duterte government must also resume peace negotiations with the NDFP and stop the track of militarism against the people, the group said. # (Report and video by Joseph Cuevas)