Court again postpones promulgation of judgment on ailing NDFP consultant

The Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) again postponed the promulgation of its decision on the case against a National Democratic Front (NDFP) peace consultant, a move a political prisoner support group said only prolongs the suffering of those wrongfully accused.

Taguig RTC Branch 266’s notice did not even include a date for the next reading of judgment against NDFP consultant Frank Fernandez, his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and their help Ge-Ann Perez, the group Kapatid said.

“This means more waiting for heaven knows when,” the group told Kodao.

Last Tuesday’s postponement was the second in as many months.

Kapatid said the day of promulgation is when the innocent is expected to regain freedom.

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim added that weaknesses in the technicalities that courts cite for delays may also mean further violations on the rights of the wrongfully accused.

“For me, there should be penalties for every delay in the promulgation of judgments, instead of the courts offering mere apologies and early notices. There is a need to reform how the judiciary system is being managed,” Lim said in Filipino.

‘Firmly maintaining innocence’

In a public letter released before the promulgation, Fernandez said they firmly maintain their innocence against “trumped-up charges” of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The former Roman Catholic priest and long-time NDFP-Negros Island spokesperson said that he, Lagtapon and Fernandez were seeking medical treatment for their various ailments and were not keeping firearms and explosives in the house they were staying at in Laguna province.

Fernandez, 75, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hyponatraemia, hypertension, atherosclerotic heart disease, and hyperplasia of prostate with obstruction, among other ailments that his continued imprisonment only worsens.

Lagtapon, 70, is pre-diabetic who also suffers from COPD while their 24-year old household help Perez suffers from Hansen’s Disease.

Fernandez recounted that when they were arrested at about five o’clock in the morning of March 24, 2019, they were handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to separate safe houses where they were subjected to psychological torture to extract information about the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Later, they were taken to a hospital for a checkup before being taken back to their rented house where firearms, grenades, ammunition, and a white powder unexplainably were seen on a table.

Kapatid said the complaints against the three were based on “planted evidence, perjured testimonies and sham witnesses.”

In his letter, Fernandez emphasized the groundless and trumped-up character of the cases against them.

“We believe that the trove of evidence, files of testimonies and several witnesses presented by the state authorities during court hearings failed miserably to prove beyond reasonable doubt that we committed such cited alleged criminal complaints,” he wrote.

He also mentioned the inconsistencies in the politically-motivated case, saying that “what was proven nonetheless was the altered and fictitious narratives; the lying, irrational logic and inconsistent statements by PNP officers.”

Dozens of Fernandez’s fellow NDFP consultants and staff arrested before and after him also face the same police charges in various courts all over the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP demands Loida Magpatoc’s release

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel demanded the release of its peace consultant arrested by the military and the police in Quezon, Bukidnon on Wednesday, September 15.

NDFP Negotiating Panel interim chairperson Julie de Lima said Loida Magpatoc is a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reform and should be immune from arrest.

“[S]he is a member of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, by virtue of which she is protected by the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).  She should therefore be released,” de Lima told Kodao.

Magpatoc was reported arrested by a composite team of the 88th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, the Quezon Philippine National Police and the military’s intelligence units in Purok 3, Barangay Paitan in Quezon town.

An old warrant issued by Branch 7 of the Bayugan (Agusan del Sur) Regional Trial Court on September 3, 2001, was reportedly used for her arrest.

A Rappler report said the same warrant was used when Magpatoc was first arrested in July 2013.

The same report said the military alleged that Magpatoc is head of the New People’s Army’s Far South Mindanao Committee.

Last May 13, the GRP’s Anti-Terrorism Council named Magpatoc and 18 others as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Central Committee.

Loida Magpatoc (right, wearing a black jacket) during the GRP-NDFP’s 3rd formal round of Negotiations in Rome, Italy in January 2017. (Kodao file photo)

Land reform and rural development expert

Magpatoc was among the NDFP peace consultants released in August 2016 by President Rodrigo Duterte to be able to participate in the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP.

Then government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III told Kodao they working to release Magpatoc and nine others through the JASIG.

Magpatoc was present during the negotiations’ third formal round in Rome, Italy in January 2017 when both parties agreed on free land distribution for poor farmers, a high point in the negotiations.

De Lima said Magpatoc is an expert on land reform and rural development who helped draft the NDFP’s version of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms with fellow peace consultant Randall Echanis and others.

Echanis was brutally murdered in August 2020 in Quezon City.

De Lima said that in the NDFP Negotiating Panel’s subcommittee on land reform and rural development, Magpatoc and Echanis were most active in advancing peasant rights and welfare.

“We call on the Filipino people to demand her immediate release. We call on all peace loving people’s to campaign for her freedom, together with all political prisoners,” de Lima said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)