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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)

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)

PNP putting words in Cardinal Tagle’s mouth, Sison says

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said the Philippine National Police (PNP) is putting words in Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s mouth when it claimed the Manila Archbishop agreed to collaborate with the Rodrigo Duterte administration in staging localized “peace talks” between the government and the revolutionary movement.

Reacting to the press release published on the PNP’s official Facebook page entitled “POLICE AND CHURCH BAT FOR LOCALIZED PEACETALKS TO END INSURGENCY,” Sison said the police’s claim is misleading.

“I do not read anything which quotes Tagle directly as joining hands with the police for localized peace talks,” Sison said.

Sison initially reacted to an Inq.net report but told Kodao he is also referring to the PNP press release, “which is obviously the basis of the Inquirer report.”

“Because it quotes extensively from PNP chief Albayalde, the news story…especially its title, tends to make it appear that Cardinal Tagle has agreed to collaborate with the tyrannical Duterte regime in staging sham localized peace talks and in carrying out a campaign of psy-war (psychological warfare) and military suppression against the revolutionary movement of the people,” Sison said.

The press release said the PNP and the Roman Catholic clergy “are joining hands to explore and reaffirm the collaboration of the church and security sector to end the decades-old local insurgency.”

PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde and Tagle met Tuesday in Manila to discuss the pursuit of localized peace talks with members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the report said.

Sison however pointed out that Tagle was clear enough with his reported statement that any call for peace talks must come from the broad sector of society and not just a unilateral declaration from either government or underground movement.

Sison pointed out that the PNP’s press release reflects the one-sided presumption and talk of Albayalde that he has hoodwinked the Cardinal into siding with the “tyrannical Duterte government” on the issue.

He said he does not see Tagle as becoming an endorser of the localized “peace talks” being staged by the military and police.

“I think that Cardinal Tagle is sufficiently informed that the sham localized ‘peace talks’ are being staged by the military and police and have been condemned by the leading political organs of the NDFP and CPP and commands of the NPA at every level, from the national to the local level,” Sison said.

Sison said that the police and military’s localized peace talks activities have been exposed as a “mere psy-war and red-tagging device…in a futile attempt to divide and destroy the revolutionary movement.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Frank Fernandez and company transferred to civilian jail

Arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant Frank Fernandez, wife Cleofe Lagtapon and companion Ge-ann Perez have finally been transferred to a civilian jail facility Monday despite efforts by the Philippine Army to keep them incommunicado inside Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Following their scheduled arraignment for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives before the Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court Monday, April 22, the three were finally committed to the Laguna Provincial Jail.

Their arraignment, however, did not push through because of their limited and ineffective access to counsel.

The three were captured by government forces in Laguna on March 24.

The 71-year old Fernandez, a former priest, was the spokesman of the NDFP in Negros, although sources in the underground hinted that he was no longer as active as before because of his age and health issues.

In an announcement, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said Fernandez and company were kept inside the Army General Hospital (AGH) since March 25 without communication to the outside world save for a few visits.

PILC also told Kodao that aside from its repeated refusal to allow PILC lawyers to visit the three, the Philippine Army also deliberately ignored an April 3 Commitment Order by the Branch 33 of the Sta. Cruz Court to transfer Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez to a civilian jail facility.

“No less than Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto, Army commanding general, denied the written request of Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores to enter Fort Bonifacio on April 16, 2019, saying that only one counsel [PILC’s Maria Kristina Conti] was recognized by the court,” PILC said.

Aside from Conti, however, Fernandez and company have formally engaged PILC’s Pastores, Amilyn Sato and Carlos Montemayor as lawyers during their inquest proceedings in Sta. Cruz last March 25.

‘No visits from lawyers and doctors’

According to an Omnibus Motion to the Court filed through their lawyers last April 17, Fernandez and company complained of being denied visits from their lawyers and doctors.

Efforts by PILC and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers counsels to gain access to their clients were denied.

Doctors who also sought ways to check up on the three were turned away by the Philippine Army.

Fernandez and Lagtapon asked the Court to require the Philippine Army to respect their right to counsel and to provide them unhindered access to them for adequate and effective preparation for their defense.

Fernandez also asked for a hospital checkup and confinement, complaining that the AGH does not appear to be fully-equipped to treat his coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hyponatremia (low sodium concentration in the blood) as diagnosed by Philippine Army doctors themselves.

Casambre now in Bicutan

Earlier this month, Fernandez’s fellow NDFP peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre had been transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City after spending weeks at the “noisy, hot and cramped” Bacoor City Jail.

Casambre was clandestinely transferred from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region detention facility in Camp Crame to Bacoor last April 3 without his family and lawyers being informed of the move.

Aside from Casambre and Fernandez, Reynante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad, Rafael Baylosis and Adelberto Silva had been arrested in succession since President Rodrigo Duterte ended the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP in November 2017.

All had been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which they deny.

Baylosis, however, was ordered released by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in January after pieces of evidence presented against him were found insufficient. 

Arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Frank Fernandez, wife Cleofe Lagtapon and companion Ge-ann Perez have finally been transferred to a civilian jail facility Monday despite efforts by the Philippine Army to keep them incommunicado inside Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Following their scheduled arraignment for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives before the Sta. Cruz (Laguna) Regional Trial Court Monday, April 22, the three were finally committed to the Laguna Provincial Jail.

Their arraignment, however, did not push through because of their limited and ineffective access to counsel.

In an announcement, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said Fernandez and company were kept inside the Army General Hospital (AGH) since March 25 without communication to the outside world save for a few visits.

PILC also told Kodao that aside from its repeated refusal to allow PILC lawyers to visit the three, the Philippine Army also deliberately ignored an April 3 Commitment Order by the Branch 33 of the Sta. Cruz Court to transfer Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez to a civilian jail facility.

“No less than Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto, Army commanding general, denied the written request of Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores to enter Fort Bonifacio on April 16, 2019, saying that only one counsel [PILC’s Maria Kristina Conti] was recognized by the court,” PILC said.

Aside from Conti, however, Fernandez and company have formally engaged PILC’s Pastores, Amilyn Sato and Carlos Montemayor as lawyers during their inquest proceedings in Sta. Cruz last March 25.

‘No visits from lawyers and doctors’

According to an Omnibus Motion to the Court filed through their lawyers last April 17, Fernandez and company complained of being denied visits from their lawyers and doctors.

Efforts by PILC and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers counsels to gain access to their clients were  denied.

Doctors who also sought ways to check up on the three were turned away by the Philippine Army.

Fernandez and Lagtapon asked the Court to require the Philippine Army to respect their right to counsel and to provide them unhindered access to them for adequate and effective preparation for their defense.

Fernandez also asked for a hospital check up and confinement, complaining that the AGH does not appear to be fully-equipped to treat his coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hyponatremia (low sodium concentration in the blood) as diagnosed by Philippine Army doctors themselves.

Casambre now in Bicutan

Earlier this month, Fernandez’s fellow NDFP peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre had been transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City after spending weeks at the “noisy, hot and cramped” Bacoor City Jail.

Casambre was clandestinely trasferred from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region detention facility in Camp Crame to Bacoor last April 3 without his family and lawyers being informed of the move.

Aside from Casambre and Fernandez, Reynante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad, Rafael Baylosis and Adelberto Silva had been arrested in succession since President rodrigo Duterte ended the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the NDFP in November 2017.

All had been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which they deny.

Baylosis, however, was ordered released by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in January after pieces of evidence presented against him were found insufficient. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

No more talks with ‘deranged Duterte’–Sison

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said there may no longer be peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) under Rodrigo Duterte, accusing both the president and the military of making the process impossible.

Responding to yet another Duterte declaration that he is still open to resuming the negotiations, Sison said the revolutionary forces may spend their time better by concentrating on intensifying their “people’s war.”

In a campaign sortie in Tuguegarao City Tuesday, Duterte again appeared to have changed his mind and said he is still open to peace negotiations with the NDFP.

“Kayong mga NPA (New People’s Army), kung gusto talaga ninyo ng usapang matino, [you declare] immediate ceasefire. Walang magdala ng armas sa kampo ninyo o sa labas, walang taxation, walang pangsunog,” Duterte said. (You, NPA, if you really want to seriously talk, declare an immediate ceasefire. Do not bring arms within and outside your camps, do not impose taxation and do not go around burning.)

He also again invited Sison to come home from The Netherlands to resume peace negotiations.

“Umuwi ka dito, Sison. Ako ang bahala sa iyo. Hindi ako traydor na tao. I give you my honor, word of honor. Mag-usap tayo,” Duterte said, adding however that he could not talk about a coalition government with the Left. (You come home. I will take care of you. I am not a traitor. We will talk.)

“Pero nothing about coalition government. You can never have even an iota of a sovereign powers of the Republic of the Philippines. I am not allowed to do that. Kaya itong mga sundalo mag-coup d’etat ito. Ako pa ang mamatay,” Duterte said. (These soldiers might stage a coup d’etat and kill me.)

But Sison said a resumption of the talks may be impossible at present, saying Duterte military have rendered negotiations impossible by doing the following:

  1. Duterte has formally terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP with Proclamation 360.
  2. He has designated the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) and the NPA as terrorist.
  3. He has rejected the substantive agenda of the peace negotiations stipulated by The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on the Sequence, Formation and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees.
  4. He has wantonly violated the safety and immunity guarantees under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) by ordering the arrest of NDFP consultants and their murder if there are no witnesses, as in the case of Randy Malayao.
  5. He has unilaterally scrapped the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and has dismantled the GRP section of the Joint Monitoring Committee.
  6. He has unleashed his military and police dogs to red-tag, frame up and kill at will social activists and suspected revolutionaries in his all-out war and pursuit of fascist dictatorship.

Sison added the military also actively interfered to stop the peace negotiations for the following reasons:

  1. The GRP negotiating panel cannot obtain the surrender of the armed revolutionary movement of the people through a protracted and indefinite ceasefire and
  2. the NDFP negotiating panel is gaining credit for pushing social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict.

Sison recalled that since The Hague Joint Declaration of September 1, 1992, the most “reactionary diehards in the military” have always acted to shorten the peace negotiations under every GRP administration.

“Under the pressure of the military, Duterte has terminated and practically killed the peace negotiations since he issued Proclamation 360 on November 23, 2017,” Sison said, adding the president has proceeded to drive more nails into the coffin of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Sison also dismissed GRP’s localized peace negotiations scheme as patently false, saying no revolutionary would ever fall for its trap.

He added that it is actually favorable for the revolutionary forces to fight an openly tyrannical Duterte regime as in the time of the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Sison also dismissed Duterte’s invitation for him to come home, saying his time is better spent on research, writing and publishing “without being distracted by back channel talks and flip-flops by the mentally, politically and morally deranged Duterte.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sison warns against Duterte’s ‘war panel’

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to constitute a new government negotiating panel with at least three military officers as members is for “militarist purposes.”

“[The NDFP] and the Filipino people should be alert to Duterte’s militarist purposes in announcing that he wishes to reopen the peace talks with the use of a militarized negotiating panel under the militarized office of the presidential adviser, General [Carlito] Galvez,” Sison said.

Sison was reacting to Duterte’s speech at the PDP-Laban campaign sortie in Bukidnon Saturday, when the president talked about looking for members for a new peace panel, most of whom would come from the military.

“I’ll look for a new one, new methods, new people to talk to. Maybe one, two, three of them are from the military. Maybe around five. Two civilian members, three from the military,” Duterte said.

The president said he dissolved the previous peace panel last March 20 because it took them too long to negotiate with the NDFP.

“It took too long. Nothing happened in three years,” he claimed.

The previous Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) negotiating panel was composed of labor secretary Silvestre H. Bello III as chairperson and members Hernani Braganza, Angela Librado-Trinidad, Rene Sarmiento and Antonio Arellano.

‘Willing and committed GRP panel’

Records, however, show that Duterte’s first negotiating panel produced groundbreaking draft agreements with the NDFP on substantive agenda as well as the longest bilateral ceasefire between both parties that lasted five months.

In June 2018, the GRP-NDFP panels and reciprocal working committees and groups drafted the following:

  1.  Stand Down Agreement,
  2. Guidelines and Procedures towards an Interim Peace Agreement and the Resumption of Talks and its attached timetable,
  3. The Initialled Interim Peace Agreement, and
  4. The NDFP Proposed Draft of the Amnesty Proclamation which was given to the GRP and the Third Party Facilitator.

The documents were ready for Duterte’s approval when he again cancelled the formal round in Oslo, Norway scheduled a week after the both panels initialled the documents.

Earlier, both panels have already approved land reform and rural development as well as national industrialization and economic development subsections of the substantive social and economic reforms substantive agenda the parties mutually described as the “meat of the negotiations.”

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili in fact acknowledged that the Bello-led GRP panel were willing and committed negotiators upon learning their counterparts were fired last March 14.

“The GRP should be wise enough to choose those who are willing or committed to address the roots of the armed conflict in order to attain a just and lasting peace as Sec. Bello has shown in the long years that he has been a consultant, member and then chairperson of the GRP panel since 1994,” Agcaoili said. 

Duterte, however, brushed aside the results of two years of hard work by both panels when he cancelled for at least the third time last June 2018 the formal round after meeting with his Cabinet’s security cluster.

“That the suspension comes after a command conference with the Armed Forces of the Philippines shows the power that warmongers wield over the civilian branch of this government,” the group Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace said at the time.

Presidential peace adviser Galvez, former Armed Forces chief of staff explained that the dissolution of the first GRP peace panel last month was aimed for the creation of a new panel that will focus on the so-called localized peace engagements.

Galvez added they will reconstitute the panel that will implement the government’s whole-of-nation approach.

‘War panel’

Sison, however, said the NDFP does not want to be baited into accepting a war panel of the Duterte regime, “whose purpose is merely to seek the impossible, such as the surrender of the revolutionary forces, especially the New People’s Army.”

“The NDFP must remind Duterte that he cannot dictate the terms of whatever kind of negotiations he seeks from the revolutionary movement of the people,” Sison said.

He added that Duterte must also explain why he terminated the peace negotiations and annul all agreements painstakingly made since the The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

Sison also asked why Duterte terminated and dismantles the GRP section of the Joint Monitoring Committee formed under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Humans Rights and International Humanitarian Law tasked to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations allegedly committed by either party.

“By all indications, Duterte is merely play-acting in the name of peace while carrying out an all-out war and scheming to rig the May 2019 elections in order to pave the way for a fascist dictatorship through charter change to a bogus federalism,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP’s Casambre ‘clandestinely’ transferred to ‘noisy’, ‘hot’ Bacoor jail

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region (CIDG-NCR) of the Philippine National Police transferred detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre from Camp Crame in Quezon City to the Bacoor City Jail in Cavite province last Wednesday, April 3, without informing his family and lawyers, his family complained.

“Tatay Rey was clandestinely whisked away by the CIDG-NCR Crame police custodian to the dark and cramped Bacoor City Jail without a word, not even to his legal counsels,” Casambre’s daughter Xandra said.

While he slept in a wooden bench inside a cramped jail cell in Camp Crame, Casambre is now jailed in an even more crowded and dark cell with too many fellow inmates, Xandra said.

“He is the 163rd inmate in a ‘dorm’ designed for only 60 people. (It is) Terrible!” she told Kodao.

According to Casambre’s wife Patricia, the Bacoor jail is very noisy and long-time inmates are allowed to sing karaoke in high volume even when it is visiting time.

“People (inmates) just do their thing right then and there,” Patricia reportedly told Xandra in her first visit to her husband’s new jail.

Xandra said Bacoor jail facility is much less accessible to family, lawyers, co-advocates and doctors.

Casambre is known to suffer many ailments connected with advancing age.

The BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) administrator reportedly tried to give a positive impression during Casambre’s family’s first visit but Patricia was broken-hearted to note of the “intolerable noise and the oppressive heat that she would not wish on others.”

Casambre’s transfer came after the public prosecutors found probable cause to charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

A hearing on Casambre’s motion for reconsideration is being conducted as of press time. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP now cracking down on friends and family of detained NDFP consultants — lawyer

The alleged safehouse in Marikina raided by the police Saturday is a family home, a lawyer of detained National Democratic Front of the Philippine (NDFP) peace consultants said.

Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores said police claims that the house located at 34-A Chrysanthemum St., Loyola Residents, Barangay Barangka was a safehouse where guns grenades were kept is “preposterous”.

“How utterly preposterous. Gamara was found staying above a coffee shop in the sentro of Imus City, with the police station a stone’s throw away. The house in Marikina, which the police claimed was another hideout, is a family home,” Pastores in a statement said.

Earlier, National Capital Region Police Office director P/Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said the police applied for another search warrant to conduct the raid in Marikina after they recovered a suspected fake identification card on Gamara bearing the address.

Eleazar said that several documents, a seafarer’s identification and a record book, two hand grenades and a 9mm pistol were confiscated during the operation conducted Friday morning.

“We are now looking for the caretaker of the house identified as Ryan Dizon. He was not around when the search warrant was implemented on Friday,” Eleazar said.

Pastores, however, said acquaintances, old friends, and family of peace consultants are now clear targets of police and military, who have come together in a crackdown against peace consultants and advocates.

“Planting firearms and explosives is the police grasping at straws, because there is no legitimate reason to arrest or investigate the persons found therein, nor the peace consultants themselves,” Pastores said.

The lawyer recalled that retired priest Arturo Balagat arrested with Gamara in Imus was later found by the prosecutor general to have no criminal intent and ties with the peace consultant other than graciously giving him shelter and food.

But the police has threatened to have Balagat’s cooperative’s licenses and registration cancelled, Pastores said.

“Both army and police officials must temper their braggadocio, not until their competence and intelligence catch up,” Pastores said.

The lawyer also criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict it created for being very busy in picking up “sick, defenseless, and unarmed” NDFP peace consultants.

“When Francisco Fernandez and Cleofe Lagtapon, likewise peace consultants, were arrested in Laguna a week ago, the army claimed to have also found them with pistols and grenades – and then, paradoxically, crowed over how weak and vulnerable they were,” Pastores said.

“Executive Order No. 70 wants to put an end to the roots of the insurgency and reclaim the peace, but why do its implementors spawn more injustice along the way? Long-drawn vendetta, disbalance of power and inequities, as demonstrated in the illegal arrests and detention of peace consultants, only pose more reasons to resist,” she added.

Pastores said they are confident that charges against Gamara, Fernandez, Lagtapon, as well as the others victims of planted evidence and perjured testimonies, will be eventually dismissed and disposed of. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyers find Fernandez and companions in Laguna prosecutor’s office

Arrested National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Francisco “Ka Frank” Fernandez and companions was finally allowed to meet their lawyers 38 hours after they were arrested in Liliw, Laguna last Sunday.

After continuous seach throughout Metro Manila and Laguna province Sunday and Monday, lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center were finally able to talk to Fernandez, his wife Cleofe Lagtapon and Geann Perez at the Sta. Cruz provincial prosecutor’s office in the said province at around seven o’clock last night.

“It was already around 7 p.m. when lawyers gained access to their client,” human rights group Karapatan announced on their Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

Karapatan said that lawyers and paralegals went to the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City after receiving information that the three were taken there.

They were denied any information, Karapatan said.

“It was later in the afternoon that police officials revealed that Fernandez et. al. were in Sta. Cruz, Laguna to undergo inquest proceedings. After an entire day of searching, lawyers were finally able to talk to the victims at the Sta. Cruz provincial prosecutor’s office,” the group said.

NDFP peace consultant Frank Fernandez being treated intravenously while undergoing inquest proceedings at the Laguna Provincial Prosecutors’ Office Monday night. (Public Interest Law Center photo)

Yesterday, Karapatan said they visited various military and police camps throughout Sunday and Monday to look for the three.

“Legal counsel and paralegals went to Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna; Camp Paciano Rizal in Sta. Cruz, Laguna; Laguna Provincial Police Office and Municipal Police Office in Sta. Cruz, Laguna; Camp Crame in Quezon City; and Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. Military and police officers denied having the three in their custody,” Karapatan said in a statement Monday.

“[The] morning of March 25, legal counsels and paralegals went to the ISAFP (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City; NBI National Office in Manila; and Camp Crame, Quezon City. The same answer was given to them,” the group added.

Charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives are set to be filed against the three, on top of murder charges against Fernandez and Lagtapon.

Police said three .45 caliber pistols, 15 rounds of ammunitions and three grenades were found to be in their possession.

Illegal possession of firearms were also charged against five other NDFP peace consultants arrested in succession since President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally terminated peace negotiations with the NDFP in November 2016.

Fernandez and Gamara were the first two NDFP peace consultants arrested since Duterte dissolved his government’s negotiating panel last March 18.

Frail health

Karapatan noted that Fernandez’s state of health was alarming.

The group said the 71-year old former Roman Catholic priest was wheelchair-bound and was injected intravenously on his arm.

“Per his medical abstract, the Army General Hospital physician confirmed that Fernandez suffers from chronic artery disease, chronic stable angina, hypertension stage 2-uncontrolled, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hyponatremia, among others,” the group reported.


Lagtapon at the Laguna Provincial Prosecutors’ Office Monday night. (Public Interest Law Center photo)

Lagtapon, 66, will also be monitored due to her frail health while Perez, 20, is reportedly being treated due to Hansen’s Disease.

Karapatan reported that all three will be under hospital arrest.

Perez at the Laguna Provincial Prosecutors’ Office Monday night. (Public Interest Law Center photo)

Their lawyers have reportedly expressed their intention to have Fernandez moved to the Philippine Heart Center for medical treatment.

After the inquest proceedings on the evening of March 25, it was decided that Fernandez, Lagtapon and Perez were to be brought back to the army hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Karapatan said. # (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)