DAVAO CITY – Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and a former head of the government’s peace panel said that if senior communist leaders Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria who were arrested Saturday showed genuine immunity papers, they “should be released” because the government should “honor what we have committed to the people and to the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines).”

“When we are talking to them, we refrain from arresting each other,” added Duterte in an interview with the media.

The Aquino government maintained that Tiamzon and Austria could not invoke Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) because Tiamzon used an alias while Austria escaped from detention before the safe conduct pass was in place.

But in a phone interview, former government negotiating panel chairman Silvestre H. Bello III, told Davao Today “there is no change in the JASIG because it is still the agreement that governs.”

Asked if the JASIG is only in effect if there is an ongoing peace talks, Bello, now Congress representative of 1-Bap partylist said “the JASIG took effect upon signing by the parties and will be in effect until it is terminated by either party through a written notice.”

“The idea is for them to consult with their forces, so that they go around to talk with their people because they conduct their negotiation with us. In order for them not to be arrested while they are going around, we issued them of a safe conduct pass,” he said.

Bello added that  “(i)f somebody is arrested who is a member of their group, and he shows his (safe) conduct pass, then he is covered by the JASIG. If he is illegally arrested, he should be released and government should help in his release.”

“In the first list, they submitted names of their negotiators, consultants, staff members, and security officers. It is where Wilma’s name is found. Her real name,” said Bello.

Bello said that the NDFP has two lists: one with members bearing real names and another bearing assumed names or aliases.

“With the assumed names, verification is still required but for Wilma, it’s her real name so she is covered by the safe conduct pass,” said Bello.

Earlier, NDFP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Luis Jalandoni said that Austria is a holder of NDFP Document of Identification ND978226 under her real name. Austria holds a Letter of Acknowledgment  signed by Bello, which provided that “The above named person is entitled to the safety and immunity guarantees as provided under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) for the duration of the peace negotiations. You are hereby required to facilitate the safe conduct and free passage of the above named person.”

Jalandoni also said Benito Tiamzon is, likewise, the holder of NDFP Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed name “Crising Banaag.”

In an emailed statement, the GPH Panel claimed that there was no violation of the JASIG in the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria.

The statement said that “the NDF and the GPH 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.  This failure had the effect of rendering the JASIG inoperative for those using aliases and those who are not directly involved in the peace process.  If indeed Benito Tiamzon was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the JASIG.”

The statement also said that Wilma “jumped bail when she escaped from detention on December 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 that she was identified in the JASIG list by her real name,” the statement said.

No leadership vacuum

Meanwhile, the New People’s Army Southern Mindanao Regional Command refuted claims by the AFP that the capture of purported CPP top leaders would mean “doom” for the revolutionary organization as there would be a “leadership vacuum.”

NPA-Southern Mindanao Spokesperson Rigoberto F. Sanchez said that they have “(m)ore reasons to advance the people’s war in Southern Mindanao.”

“The US-Aquino regime is daydreaming when it says the arrest spells the demise of the revolutionary movement,” said Sanchez.

He said that the NPA is “ever resolute to advance the guerrilla war to a higher stage” as the “roots of armed conflict are firmly embedded in a region heavily militarized by the fascist AFP troops.”

Sanchez said that “(i)n the last two months alone, three sub-regional units of the NPA have inflicted 54 casualties against the AFP.”

Sanchez said that the Army’s “39th IB (Infantry Battalion), 57th IB and the 71st IB suffered several defeats, thus they were required to attend rotational retraining.”

He said that Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Eastern Mindanao Command “augmented its troops with a new Army division, and the deployment of the 9th Infantry Battalion in Compostela Valley, the 68th IB and the 4th Special Forces in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon boundary” to augment the above unit.

“The new Army units are responsible for the spate of aerial bombing in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, and in Maco, Compostela Valley,” said Sanchez adding that the AFP made this move “(i)ronically after boasting that several provinces in the region are insurgency-free.”

Pursue peace talks

Bello said that in his experience, there had been “withdrawals and postponement” in the peace talks.

“But we were able to revive the talks. On the part of the government, my position is we should continue to pursue the talks to its logical conclusion and that is lasting peace for our country. We should never abandon the talks,” he said.

For his part, Duterte said that communist leaders “are still citizens of this republic (but) who is at war with us.” (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)

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