DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Negotiators and consultants in the peace talks remain immune from arrests.
This was the assertion made by the leadership of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) after one of its consultants, Frank Fernandez, was arrested on Sunday, March 24.
In a statement, NDFP peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili said Fernandez is a known peace consultant as the NDFP-Negros spokesperson bearing the Document of Identification Number PP 978544 as provided for in the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
“The JASIG is an agreement between the two Parties in armed conflict. It has been duly approved by their respective Principals. And there is a required protocol for its termination. 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. In fact, the immunity guarantees of Frank Fernandez extends even after the actual termination of the peace talks,” said Agcaoili.
Fernandez along with his wife, 66-year-old Cleofe Lagpaton, and companion Gee-Ann Perez were arrested early morning of Sunday, March 24, at Barangay Calumpang, Liliw, Laguna.
Philippine National Police Oscar Albayalde in a press briefing on Monday, bared that the three are facing charges of violation of Commission on Election (Comelec) Resolution 10429 in relation to the Omnibus Election Code as well as violation of Republic Act 10591 (Illegal possession of firearms) and violation of Republic Act 9516 (Illegal possession of explosives).
The PNP reported that three .45 caliber pistols, three magazines, and three grenades were allegedly found in their possession.
Fernandez is facing four standing murder arrest warrants while Lagpaton was included in one of the arrest warrants.
Human rights group Karapatan condemned the PNP for denying the whereabouts of the three for a day. Karapatan Deputy Secretary-General Roneo Clamor said family and responders were denied any information until the PNP held a press briefing but did not present the arrested to the media.
“Lawyers immediately went to Fort Bonifacio to ascertain whether the three were indeed there, but were denied any information. It was later in the afternoon that police officials revealed that Fernandez et al was 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,” Clamor added.
Clamor bared that Fernandez’s health is not in good condition. He said the attending 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 three will be under hospital arrest at the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. Their lawyers expressed their intention to have Fernandez moved to the Philippine Heart Center for medical treatment.
The NDFP demands the immediate release of Fernandez and his companions, “For humanitarian considerations alone, he should not have been arrested and allowed to receive unhampered medical treatment.”
Agcaoili added: “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.”
Last week, NDFP consultant Renante Gamara and Fr. Arturo Balagat were arrested in a raid by a joint police-military task force in Imus, Cavite for illegal possession of firearms and that Gamara is wanted for kidnapping with murder and frustrated murder.
In a previous statement, Agcaoili, however, said that Gamara is protected under the JASIG and that there is no warrant against him.
“But his arresting unit resorted to the usual ploy of planting evidence in order to charge him with the trumped-up offense of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, as in the cases of NDFP consultants Edilberto Silva, Vic Ladlad and Rey Claro Casambre,” Agcaoili added.
Meanwhile Fr. Balagat, Agcaoili said, is neither a participant nor a holder of a document of identification or safe conduct pass in the peace negotiations.
“But he was during the time of the Marcos dictatorship, the spokesperson of the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA) movement. His arrest smacks of the regime’s irrational and unrelenting assault and persecution of church people,” he added.
Fernandez was the sixth NDFP peace consultant arrested since the formal peace negotiation with the communists was terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte in November 2017. (davaotoday.com)