Military braces for retaliatory attacks
MANILA, Philippines – The military's Fokker plane carrying arrested Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma Austria landed at 1:30 pm Sunday, March 23, at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City. Elusive for decades, the couple proceeded to Camp Crame for booking and processing before they were turned over to the PNP custodial center.
It's a moment many thought would never happen. Tiamzon, who others would argue, is even more powerful than CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, fell into the hands of authorities. They were arrested Saturday, March 22, as they were about to leave a safehouse in Cebu, supposedly to transfer to another safehouse elsewhere. Before Cebu, they were monitored in Samar. (READ: CPP chief, wife nabbed in Cebu – military)
"Tiamzon is the center of gravity of the CPP-NPA-NDF here in the Philippines as the acting chairman in lieu of Jose Maria Sison who is in Utrecht as Chairman Emeritus," reads a military primer on Tiamzon. (READ: Benito Tiamzon: Writer, organizer, party man)
The guerrillas have been waging a protracted war for 4 decades now, reaching a peak of about 20,000 armed members under the late president Corazon Aquino. The insurgency has claimed 30,000 lives, according to government estimates.
Military intelligence chief Major General Eduardo Año, who was among those who oversaw the operations to arrest Tiamzon, said they expect retaliatory attacks from the guerrillas.
"We expected that. Gaganti sila to erase... parang naano 'yung invincibility nila. The chairman himself has been arrested. So no one is safe.... This means lack of direction, lack of supervision of the central leadership. The regional commands might resort to decentralized operations," said Año.
"Unlike before, it only takes one email from Tiamzon to give direction to all regions," he added.
Año said it would take the CPP at least 6 months to assemble and vote for Tiamzon's replacement.
"It would create a leadership vacuum. You could not just replace him. It's collective leadership. [The chairman] has to be voted by all the members of the central committee. They have to summon all the members of the central committee in one area and then they will hold an election," he explained.
Tiamzon's arrest coincided with the 117th anniversary of the Philippine Army, a week before the NPA's 45th anniversary, and 3 days after Tiamzon's 63rd birthday.
Arrested with the couple were Rex Villaflor, Nona Castillo, Joel Enano, Jeosi Nepa, and Arlene Panea.
Wilma is sick
Despite his handcuffs, Tiamzon raised his fist before photographers in Camp Crame. Sickly, Austria was spared the handcuffs. She has various health problems – asthma, serious kidney ailment, and recurring back pain.
These photos that surfaced Sunday afternoon, along with the photo releases of the military, show them much older than they were in the 1990s, when their last available photos were taken.
Tiamzon was a student activist and went on to organize labor unions in the 1970s. He met Austria in the underground movement. They have a daughter, according to the military briefer.
In Camp Aguinaldo, Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista underscored the impact of the arrest.
"When you arrest the leader of any organization, it has an impact on the organization because the vacuum in leadership will be felt by the organization. Hopefully, the rest of the organization will realize the futility of the armed struggle," Bautista told reporters.
Bautista said Tiamzon himself "directs the armed struggle all over the country. He directs all the landmining, the killings, and the violence perpetrated by the New People's Army."
Año said this could pressure the CPP to return to the negotiating table. Government said it was Tiamzon who had prevailed upon CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison to oppose the "special track" that would have fastracked a peace deal between the government and the CPP. Government chief negotiator Alexis Padilla hopes the arrest would lead to honest-to-goodness peace talks. (READ: Tiamzon, wife not covered by 'immunity')
"We call on the rest of the members of the CPP/NPA to lay down their arms, abandon the armed struggle, return to the comfort of their families and join us in bringing peace and development to our nation," added Bautista.
The CPP maintained that Tiamzon's arrest does not stop the "people's war."
"While the wisdom and guidance of individual leaders is important, the advance of the revolutionary struggle depends more on the collective wisdom, determination and organization of the revolutionary masses. The arrest of Tiamzon and Austria will not stop the main trend of advance of the people’s war," it said in a statement posted on its web site on Sunday.
The CPP's political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said the arrests violate the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). The Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser insisted they are not covered by the immunity, however. (READ: CPP chief, wife not covered by immunity) – Rappler.com