MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The communist rebels who were released last year to serve as consultants to the National Democratic Front (NDF) cannot be arrested as they remain protected under the mechanisms of the peace talks that have yet to be formally terminated.
As of Monday morning, February 6, the government has yet to send a written notice to the NDF on the cancellation of the talks, according to NDF legal consultant Edre Olalia.
He added that while some of the communist rebels were only given 6 months of temporary liberty – which expires later this month – the government committed during talks in Rome two weeks ago that this would be extended for the duration of the talks.
It will also take 30 days from the time of the written notice before the talks are deemed terminated, Olalia said. (READ: WHO'S WHO: Political prisoners released for Oslo peace talks)
On Monday, however, human rights group Karapatan said an NDF consultant, one of those released last year, was being held by a government task force. (READ: NDF consultant held in Davao, clashes with NPA resume)
Protected under JASIG
Olalia said this means the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) protecting NDF consultants from arrest remains in effect. Both panels reaffirmed the agreement when talks resumed in August 2016. (READ: PH, NDF joint statement on the resumption of talks)
"The NDFP political consultants as such are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the peace negotiations," Olalia said.
"These immunity guarantees hold even after the JASIG and peace negotiations are effective precisely because they aim to protect them and encourage their participation or involvement in the peace process," he added.
Court orders necessary
Olalia said a legal process has to be followed, including the issuance of court orders, before the consultants may be put back in jail.
"Only the courts which granted them temporary liberty by virtue of cash bails can act or order whether or not they can be validly rearrested, if at all, and not by the unilateral action of the police nor the military, much less even by the mere instructions of the GRP President," he said.
The joint statement of the government and the NDF after the 3rd round of talks reads: "The GRP commited to file immediately the necessary manifestations in support of the motions for the temporary liberty of the NDFP consultants and staff granted bail and released in August 2016 be extended and remain effective for the duration of the peace negotations." – Rappler.com