The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday reiterated that the arrests of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon are legal and valid.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the two leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) were captured based on two standing warrants of arrest. The Tiamzons cannot invoke immunity from arrest under the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) because the peace negotiations with communist rebels have been suspended, she said.
“The existing warrants of arrest have not been nullified, so they’re presumed to be valid and regular and have been issued in the ordinary course of things. They went through the right process, so they could be implemented,” de Lima told reporters.
She said the arrest warrants were issued in connection with the mass grave unearthed in Inopacan, Leyte and a separate case filed in Northern Samar.
Aside from this, the Tiamzons failed to show proof of coverage by the Jasig, de Lima added.
“The NDF is claiming that they are covered. But there’s no validation of that from the government panel. It was never verified that they are really covered. Even then, assuming arguendo that they are, indeed, Jasig-covered, they cannot invoke their immunities. Jasig presupposes the existence of a peace negotiation, and we all know that the peace negotiations have not resumed. I don’t know if the peace talks have been terminated or only suspended,” de Lima said.
“There are no peace negotiations, there’s no peace process between the government panel and the National Democratic Front panel and, therefore, those guarantees under Jasig cannot be operational,” she stressed.
Lawmakers warned that the arrest of the Tiamzon couple could be the proverbial “straw” that might break the back of the government peace talks with the NDF.
Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate called on the government to free Benito and Wilma Tiamzon if it really wants the peace process with the communist group to resume.
The lawmakers claimed that the government is “scuttling the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) by harassing, illegally arresting and even killing Jasig holders.”
“We also take exception to the statement of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that the arrest was legal because as per given information, there are ongoing exploratory talks between the two parties and they would be derailed by this arrest,” Zarate said.
Colmenares said the arrest is the product of a joint order issued by the Department of National Defense and Department of Interior and Local Government, which lists “alleged 235 wanted communists” with a total monetary reward of P466.88 million.
“We have long been calling for the junking and deactivation of this hit list for supposed members of the CPP/NPA/NDF with rewards for their arrest or neutralization, which is just being used by officials to collect reward money,” he said.
Zarate said Bayan Muna has filed House Resolution 441 calling for the resumption of peace talks and the release of all NDFP consultants.
“It seems that the administration wants to kill the peace talks,” he said.
“The Aquino administration should free all NDFP consultants for the peace talks to continue because as it is they are the ones sowing bad faith and sabotaging the peace talks,” he added.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday celebrated the capture of top CPP-NPA leaders, saying it is a “serious blow” to the rebel group.
Aquino said the Tiamzons were the “big fish” he was referring to earlier. Last week, the President said authorities would arrest another high-profile fugitive that would surprise the public.
“It [The arrest] wasn’t a surprise because I did mention it,” Aquino told reporters.
“I believe it does deliver a serious blow. And it shows you also the competency of our security forces,” he added.
The President also belittled threats of possible attacks by communist rebels.
“The attacks have not ceased. So, what are they saying? For them, it’s business as usual I guess,” he said.
The President, however, acknowledged that the government must deal with the “root causes” of the insurgency problem.
“That’s why we are focused on empowering our people, especially in trying to move them out of poverty in the various interventions that we have been doing from education, to health, to livelihood, to housing, to disaster preparedness and so on and so forth,” he said.
Aquino believes that the arrest of the Tiamzons will not affect the peace negotiations.
He notes that the peace process will resume if the communist rebels are willing to go back to the negotiating table.
“They [CPP-NPA] have walked out of the peace talks. Does it have an impact? I don’t think so. It really depends on their willingness to go back to the bargaining table,” he said.
Luis Jalandoni, chairman of the NDF of the Philippines, earlier warned that the couple’s arrest “seriously prejudices” the peace negotiations.
He said Benito and Wilma are peace consultants and are carrying identification documents issued under the Jasig agreement. Wilma, he said, holds Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed named “Crising Banaag.”
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government peace panel believes that Tiamzon and his wife are not covered by the immunity agreement.
“The NDF and the government panel agreed to a procedure in July 2011 to verify the true identities of several dozens alleged NDF consultants in the list of protected individuals carrying aliases,” Lacierda said. “But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the NDF consultants,” he added.
He said such failure rendered the Jasig inoperative “for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace process.”
With Catherine S. Valente