Free top Reds, govt panel told

CPP-NDF sets prelude to peace talks

THE Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front is seeking the release of its consultants, including detained top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said.

In an interview with Manila Standard, Sison also disclosed receiving information from the special team of the government that former Armed Forces chief of staff retired Gen. Emmanuel Bautista will replace Alexander Padilla as head of the government’s negotiating panel.

Sison said the CPP-NDF did not request that Padilla be replaced, even as he described the current government chief negotiator as “hardheaded.”

“Alex Padilla wants to dictate surrender terms instead of pushing for reasonable negotiations between the contending parties. Bautista, on the other hand, is okay as he is a retired military officer. If the retired general is broadminded, he can understand better the peace negotiations and eventually the peace agreement,” he said.

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“We were told by the special representatives of the government on Bautista’s possible appointment. The NDF did not ask for Alex to be replaced. It is the prerogative of the government to change its negotiators and other personnel in the peace negotiations,” Sison added.

Padilla is reportedly bent on focusing on his job as head of PhilHealth while Bautista has been credited for crafting the military’s Internal Peace and Security Plan or IPSP-Bayanihan aimed at ending communist insurgency in the country.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles declined to comment on Bautista’s reported appointment.

“There will be an announcement at the appropriate time. I will not confirm or deny anything that does not have the signature of the President,” Deles said.

Sison stressed the importance of releasing the Tiamzon couple —tagged as the head of the New People’s Army—for talks on a truce and cooperation agreement with the government.

“The release of Wilma and Benito is not a precondition to the resumption of the formal peace talks. But it is an obligation under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees,” he said.

Asked if the government is open to releasing the Tiamzon couple – who were arrested in March in Carcar, Cebu - Deles could not give a definite answer.

“I don’t know. It will depend on what will happen in the formal peace talks,” she said.

On other detained NDF consultants, Deles said: “Those whom we are convinced are needed for the peace talks, we will find a way so they can participate.”

A separate source privy to the backchannel talks aimed at firming up the agenda for January’s formal negotiations said the communist group also asked the government to allow it to reconstitute its list of consultants protected under the JASIG, which was earlier rendered “inoperative” because of the failure of the NDF to store hard copies of the list in a bank in Utrecht.

“It is reasonable to expect that the JASIG be reconstituted first before the formal peace talks,” the source said.

Deles said the government is open to the requests of the NDF but again said this depends on the progress of the formal peace negotiations.

“If there is really a commitment to talk peace, then I think these issues can be considered as residual. But if they insist on putting these issues first on the table without any substantial progress in the peace talks, we might see the same problems as before,” Deles said.

“In principle, we agree that the JASIG must be reconstituted. We are committed to ensure that those who participate in the peace negotiations will have safety and immunity guarantees,” she added.

In an earlier interview, Padilla insisted that the Tiamzon couple, arrested for pending frustrated murder and murder cases, are not covered by JASIG.

“You will recall we had a verification procedure done last July 2011 where through no fault of the government, the NDF 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, can claim Jasig protection and expect to be released,” he added.

But NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni insisted that the couple are “NDF consultants who have fulfilled and are fulfilling highly significant tasks in the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF.”

“Wilma Austria is holder of NDF Document of Identification ND978226 under her real name. Benito Tiamzon is likewise the holder of NDFP Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed name Crising Banaag,” Jalandoni said.

Padilla, however, disputed Jalandoni’s claim.

“The CPP-NPA is well aware of the effects of the failed verification. But they only have themselves to blame for rendering the JASIG inoperative for most of their alleged consultants. If indeed Benito

Tiamzon was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the JASIG,” Padilla said.

“Wilma Austria, on the other hand, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on Dec. 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 she was identified in the JASIG list by her real name,” Padilla added.

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