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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)

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)

Para sa kalayaan ng mga bilanggong politikal

Before attendees of the Free Rey Casambre Campaign at the University of the Philippines last Saturday, Public Interest Law Center managing counsel Rachel Pastores said the judges and prosecutors who handle the cases of incarcerated National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants must be encouraged to do what is right. (Image by Carlo Francisco/Kodao)

Prosecutor drops gun possession charge vs Silva’s companions

Three companions of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Adelberto Silva arrested with him last Monday, October 15, were ordered freed Thursday after charges of illegal possession of firearms against them have been dismissed.

Public Interest Law Center (PILC) managing counsel Rachel Pastores said that the temporary release of Hedda Calderon, Ireneo Atadero and Edisel Legaspi is allowed pending further investigation of an additional charge against them.

Pastores said that additional charges of illegal possession of explosives were referred for preliminary investigation by Laguna provincial prosecutor Ma. Victoria Dado.

The three were arrested along with Silva and their driver Julio Lusania by combined elements of the Philippine National Police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

The CIDG said the two .45 caliber handguns, three hand grenades, a claymore mine-type improvised explosive device and assorted ammunition were seized from the five during their arrest.

Silva, however, told Kodao that the guns and explosives were “planted”.

“PILC expects the CIDG-NCR to implement the release soonest possible, in respect of due process and presumption of innocence of all detained, most especially the wrongfully-accused,” Pastores said.

The CIDG, however, still has to abide by the resolution and release the three.

In an Inquirer report, PILC’s Atty. Kristina Conti denied that Silva is part of any destabilization plot against President Rodrigo Duterte, such as the so-called Red October plot the military described by the military.

“This story is laughable but we are not amused,” Conti said.

Conti said the Calderon, Atadero and Legaspi were consulting with Silva who is a leading member of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms in its peace process with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Facing multiple murder charges for an alleged massacre in Inopacan, Leyte, Silva was released in August 2016 to enable his participation in the first formal talks between the GRP and the NDFP in Oslo, Norway.

His temporary bail was suspended last January, however, after President Duterte cancelled the peace talks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Satur’s lawyers seek his dismissal from DOJ list

Lawyers have asked the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 to dismiss the petition against former Representative Saturnino “Satur” Ocampo in connection with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) move to have the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) proscribed as terrorist organizations.

In a notice of special apperance filed Wednesday, March 20, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) said the respondent in the DOJ petition were the CPP and the NPA and not Ocampo.

“Obviously, there is a material discrepancy between the statements in the summons and the allegations in the petition,” the PILC motion said.

“The summons indubitably designated movant Ocampo as a party respondent, in the stead of the actual respondents, the CPP and the NPA,” it added.

Ocampo was among hundreds listed in the DOJ petition as “known officers” of the CPP and the NPA the Rodrigo Duterte government wanted proscribed as terrorist organizations.

The PILC however denied Ocampo is a party to the instant [DOJ] proceeding.

“The Honorable Court cannot indulge on the drastically erroneous premise that movant is a respondent, as there is no basis whatsoever to implead him,” the PILC said.

The lawyers said Ocampo vehemently denies he is an officer, a member or even a representative the CPP and the NPA and therefore has no legal, vested, material interest insofar as the petition for proscription of the CPP and NPA is concerned.

In the PILC motion’s prefatory statement, Ocampo said, “I am Saturnino Ocampo. Journalist. I am NOT a terrorist.”

PILC said Ocampo cannot be made party to the instant proceeding against the CPP and the NPA that are entities with personalities separate from his.

“[N]othing in the [DOJ] petition and its annexes indicate that movant Saturnino Ocampo is indeed an officer, member or representative of the CPP and NPA,” PILC said.

The PILC said annexes to the DOJ petition naming Ocampo as one of the members of the CPP Central Committee were all issued in 2006 and has also failed to prove he still remains as member or officer of the CPP and the NPA.

Ocampo served as Bayan Muna Representative in the 12th to 14th Congress in 2001 to 2010. He currently serves as the chairperson of the Makabayan Coalition that has seven representatives in the 17th Congress.

Ocampo’s lawyers have also denied he has committed any terrorist act.

“It is respectfully prayed of the Honorable Court that the instant Petition BE DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction over the person of movant Saturnino Ocampo and for failure of the petition to state a cause of action against him,” PILC said.

The PILC motion is the first to be filed against the DOJ petition to have the CPP and the NPA proscribed as terrorist organizations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Lawyers present six reasons why political prisoners must be freed

People’s lawyers held a press conference at Mendiola this morning and cited six reasons for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) joined human rights victims and their kin in solidarity fasting and stressed the legal and humanitarian grounds for the release.

President Rodrigo Duterte had recently issued statements he would only release the political prisoners after a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The lawyers said Duterte is contradicting himself, saying it was him who promised to grant them general amnesty immediately after his election as President earlier this year. (Featured photo by Salinlahi)

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