MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The government committed “no violation” in the arrest of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) top leaders Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma. They are not covered by any immunity from arrest, according to Alex Padilla, chief government negotiator with the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“Even if peace talks resume, the release of [Benito] Tiamzon and Wilma is completely separate. Only upon the conclusion of a final peace agreement would, possibly, personalities of this stature be released,” Padilla told Rappler in an interview Sunday morning, March 23. (READ: CPP chief, wife nabbed in Cebu – military)
Elusive for decades, Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the CPP-New People’s Army (NPA), and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, CPP-NPA secretary-general, were arrested on Saturday afternoon, March 22, in Barangay Zaragosa, Aloguinsan town in Cebu.
The arrest comes a week before the NPA celebrates its 45th founding anniversary on March 29, 1969. The CPP is behind Asia’s longest-running insurgency.
Corrupted data file
The NDFP is demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the Tiamzons because they are supposed to be protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
“This latest flagrant violation of the JASIG by the Aquino regime, in addition to so many other gross violations of the JASIG, most seriously prejudices the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations,” said NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni.
But Padilla said they were not granted immunity because the verification process scheduled in July 2012 failed.
The Tiamzons can blame a supposed computer glitch. During talks in The Netherlands, the NDFP was unable to open the data file that would have listed the aliases and attached the pictures of the “underground” personalities who would be protected under JASIG. The file was apparently corrupted.
“No violation. You will recall we had a verification procedure done last July 2012 where through no fault of the government, the NDFP failed to open their own files, thus making JASIG inoperative with regards those using aliases and not directly involved in the peace process,” Padilla said.
“To sustain their claim is ridiculous because that would mean they can wage war and violence and when caught, claim JASIG protection and expect to be released,” Padilla added.
There are two JASIG lists: one list for the 34 members of the NDFP negotiating panel and another list for the underground members who are talking to the underground troops.
Padilla said the failure of the verification process means only the rebels in the first list are covered by JASIG, which inlcudes Jalandoni and spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili, among others.
It was the NDFP that requested for the reconstruction of the list, Padilla added.
If the NDFP’s file wasn’t corrupted, would the government have agreed back then to give the Tiamzons immunity?
“Yes. At that time,” said Padilla.
There was a high point in the peace talks when the CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, according to government narration, agreed to a “special track” that would fast track the talks that have been on and off since the presidency of the late President Corazon Aquino. But Sison supposedly reneged on his promise after the Tiamzons prevailed on him to refuse the special track. Talks crumbled and the two panels have not returned to the negotiating panel since. (READ: Joma wants peace, the ‘underground’ doesn’t – Padilla)
While both camps accuse each other of insincerity, the CPP in December 2013 said in a statement that it was abandoning the peace talks.
There have been continuing efforts to revive the talks but to no avail. Padilla himself has been appointed CEO of Philhealth although he has not been replaced as chief negotiator.
Padilla is hoping that the arrest of the Tiamzons would lead to the surrender of underground troops “so we can now resume honest-to-goodness peace talks.”
“I think malaki ang impact [of the arrest.] Everybody knows both spouses hold responsible positions in the underground movement…. Definitely, it will be a big blow to them,” said Padilla.
There are concerns that the NPA will launch retaliatory attacks but Padilla said: “The violence inflicted both on the government and civilians was never stopped. Whether they would increase violence is a question of degree. But we wish it would stop,” he said.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government is “fully aware of the possibility of retaliation,” but gave assurances that “our armed forces are always ready to defend the population.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Ging Deles also said: “The arrest of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon does not change our basic stance 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.” – Rappler.com