Arrest of rebel leaders sparks legal questions

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


LAW enforcers arrested high-ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) on the strength of a warrant for “crimes against humanity” issued by a court in Northern Samar.

The charges hurled against Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma Austria, were multiple murder and frustrated murder cases. Tiamzon is chairman, while Austria is secretary general of the CPP-NPA.

But National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chairman Luis Jalandoni said the arrest was illegal for it violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).

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Jasig entitles CPP-NPA officials safe-conduct passes that protect them from being arrested while the peace negotiations continue, said lawyer Rachel Pastores.

Pastores, NDFP legal consultant in the negotiations, said the Tiamzons are included in the list of officials granted with passes.

“They should have respected the Jasig,” she said in a phone interview. “How can we trust the government if they don’t follow the agreement?”

Jasig was signed on Feb. 24, 1995, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

“Safety guarantees” mean that “all duly accredited persons...in possession of documents of identification or safe conduct passes are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations.”

No violation

In its website, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said the arrest did not violate the Jasig.

“You will recall that both the NDF and the Government of the Philippines agreed to a procedure in July 2011 to verify the true identities of several dozen alleged NDF consultants in the list of JASIG –protected individuals carrying aliases. But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the said NDF consultants,” the statement
said.

It added: “If indeed Benito Tiamzon was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the JASIG. Wilma Austria Tiamzon, on the other hand, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on Dec. 26, 1989, when there were no peace talks, and six years before the JASIG came into effect.

This makes her ineligible for JASIG protection, even assuming she was identified in the JASIG list by her real name.”

Criticismv

Pastores also criticized the Central Command (Centcom) for not allowing members of Karapatan and lawyers to see the couple and five other detainees.

She said the military violated the rights of the detainees for not allowing them to speak with a lawyer last Saturday night.

“They are immediately entitled to have a lawyer,” said Pastores, who is also the managing counsel of the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and represents other detained consultants on peace negotiations.

The Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution states: “Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.”

“No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means, which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited,” it says.

Not allowed

Karapatan coordinator Dennis Abarientos, information officer Teresa Alicaba, lawyers, and other members went to Centcom in Barangay Apas, Cebu City around 10 p.m. last Saturday.

They were not allowed by the guards to enter the camp and speak with the detainees. A military official named Allan Abuhan talked to them about 15 minutes later. He did not let them in, saying he was not the person in authority.

“We waited for two hours,” said Alicaba. “He never came back until the rain fell.”

She said their group left past 12 a.m. yesterday.

The Department of National Defense (DND) said Tiamzons and other detainees were brough to Centcom after the arrest.

But in a text message sent by Centcom information officer Jim Aris Alagao to GMA 7 reporter Gregy Magdadaro yesterday morning, the former denied that there were detainees in the camp.

“Wala ngara sa inyo tong mga giingong rebelde, sir (The rebels are not there, sir)?” Magdadaro asked.

“Wa man (Not here),” said Alagao.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 24, 2014.

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