Arrests of CPP-NPA leaders ‘a big blow’

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


CEBU CITY -- The couple at the helm of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, were transported to Camp Crame on Saturday, after their arrest in Aloguinsan town.

The military’s Central Command (Centcom) has been on red alert since Saturday, following the arrest of Tiamzon, 63, the party chairman, and his wife Wilma Austria-Austria, 61, its secretary-general.

“We are expecting they might retaliate, especially here in Centcom where they got arrested. The big fish have been caught,” Lieutenant Jim Alagao, Centcom spokesperson, told Sun.Star Cebu.

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Five others who were also arrested on Saturday in Cebu were transported to Manila with Tiamzon and Austria, including three Cebuanos.

They were identified as Nona C. Castillo of Consolacion town; Jeosi M. Nepa of Lapu-Lapu City; and Arlene J. Panea of Mactan. The other two were identified as Rex G. Villaflor of Makati City and Joel E. Enano of Buhatan, Sorsogon.

A team of about 40 military and police operatives confiscated four laptops, 16 cellular phones and 20 flash drives from the group.

CPP-NPA leaders

COMMUNIST PARTY CHAIRMAN. Military officials describe Benito Tiamzon, 63, (above, right) as the “center of gravity” of the Maoist insurgency in the country. He, Wilma Austria and 5 others were in 2 vans when they were arrested last Saturday afternoon in Zaragosa, Aloguinsan. (Contributed photo/PNP PIO)

Passing through

They also seized 13 firearms, two hand grenades and ammunition; the guns seized were a Colt .45 pistol; a Norinco 9mm pistol; a Kimber 9mm pistol; and 10 Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers.

The authorities said they found the original receipt and certificate of registration of the two vehicles. A gray 2008 Hyundai Starex Van (MDN-171) was registered to Rex Villaflor of Barangay Pitogo, Makati City, while a black 2009 Toyota Innova wagon (YGY-897) was in the name of Darlon David Lenares of Poblacion, Dalaguete.

Aloguinsan Police Station Chief George Macapobre, in a separate interview, said the police haven’t received any reports of sightings of rebel leaders in the area.

He said the barangay were the group was arrested is a mountain village located more than ten kilometers away from the town proper. It has fewer than 1,000 residents, some of whom rely on farming, while others work in construction jobs in Cebu City.

A detachment of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit, an auxiliary force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), is also placed in Zaragosa, he said.

“Kung naa man gane, mabantayan gyud na nila (If there are any rebels in the area, they would be detected),” Macapobre said.

Priority areas

Centcom’s Alagao, during the interview, said there’s no need to be alarmed by the CPP-NPA leaders’ arrest in Cebu, since the province has long been declared insurgency-free, together with other Bohol and Siquijor.

“Our priority areas now are Negros Oriental and Samar,” Alagao added.

A police report in the Carcar City Police Station showed the couple and five others were arrested past 3 p.m. in Barangay Zaragosa, Aloguinsan by the Philippine Army, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and Carcar City police.

They were caught on board two vehicles, a Starex van and a Toyota Innova.

They had an arrest warrant for murder and frustrated murder, issued by Regional Trial Court (RTC) 8 Branch 21 Judge Decoroso Torla, said SPO1 Randy Chavez of Carcar City Police Station.

Police and military officials coordinated with local government officials for the arrest.

45 years now

Aloguinsan Vice Mayor Augustus Caesar Moreno, in an interview yesterday, said the local police had received radio reports to put up blockades because there were criminal elements aboard a vehicle.

Tiamzon and Austria had been charged with multiple murder for the death of 15 civilians in Inopacan, Leyte who, the military said, they later buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 2006.

Tiamzon was the secretary of the Eastern Visayas Regional Committee when the murder was allegedly committed.

The arrests are a big blow to the 45-year Marxist insurgency, one of Asia’s longest.

The rebels have been fighting since 1969, accusing successive Philippine administrations of subservience to United States interests and failing to improve the lives of the poor.

Communist rebels have demanded the release of Austria and Tiamzon, whom the military described as the “center of gravity” of the Maoist insurgency, who has overseen major rebel actions for years.

The United States has blacklisted the group, which has about 4,000 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization.

No release

Government officials refused to release Tiamzon and Austria, saying there was nothing illegal in their arrest.

Luis Jalandoni, National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel chief, said the arrest violated the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) signed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the CPP-NPA-NDF in 1995. He said the two were consultants in stalled peace talks who were granted temporary immunity from arrests.

But the GPH peace panel headed by Alexander Padilla said: “The GPH panel believes otherwise. There has been no violation of the Jasig in these cases.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria does not change the basic stance of the government that peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA “can only proceed with a clear and time-bound agenda that provides some possibility of bringing us closer to a final peace agreement.”

“We continue to hope that the leadership of CPP-NPA will come to the same conclusion sooner rather later,” she added. (DSM/JKV of Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex/AP)

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

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