Palace: No conditions

‘Pending cases prevent release of arrested Reds’

THE Palace said Monday it will not accept any conditions for the resumption of peace talks with the communist rebels.

“We have always said there will be no preconditions when it comes to talks with either party,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, referring to the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Muslim insurgents. “This is something we have said time and again.”

Wilma and Benito Tiamzon
Lacierda was responding to a question on whether the government would consider the request from Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to release Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, top leaders of the rebel movement, before peace talks resume.

Lacierda said there was a pending criminal case against Benito Tiamzon and his release is out of the question.

Tiamzon, chairman of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), and his wife Wilma, the secretary-general of the group, were arrested in Carcar, Cebu on March 22.

Malacañang said at the time that they not covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee, signed with the CPP-NDF in 1995.

Sison on Monday said the CCP-NDF is seeking the release of 14 consultants and 500 political prisoners under an existing human rights agreement between the rebel group and the government.

In an interview, Sison said this was conveyed by NDF negotiating panel spokesman Fidel Agcaoili to former Agrarian Reform secretary Hernani Braganza, one of the “friends of the peace process” doing backchannel work, during the 46th anniversary rites of the CPP in Surigao del Sur last week.

“They (Agcaoili and Braganza) talked about how to iron out some kinks before the formal talks of the two panels next month,” he said.

“We need one more informal [meeting] between the special representatives of the government and the NDF to firm up the agenda and clarify when and how to free the 14 NDF consultants under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantes and the first batch of the 500 political prisoners to be released under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” Sison added.

He said, however, that the releases were not a condition to resume peace talks, which have been stalled for three years.

The 14 consultants include the Tiamzons. While Sison did not identify the other consultants, other high-ranking communist leaders who are still detained are Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jazmines, Emeterio Antalan, Leopoldo Caloza, Pedro Codaste, Alfredo Mapano, Eduardo Sarmiento, Paterno Opo, Dario Tomada, and Marilyn Badayos-Condes.

In a separate interview, presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said if the peace talks are going well, “many things can happen.”

“There being no preconditions, releases will be appropriately talked about as necessitated by developments on the peace table,” Deles said.

But Deles said she is not aware of any list of 500 political prisoners who need to be freed under the human rights accord.

A source privy to past negotiations between the government and the CPP-NDF, however, said the list of political prisoners needs to be examined closely as some of the names included were members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“We have to define what political prisoners mean because the government has been denying and will continue to deny that there are political prisoners,” the source said.

Lacierda said the agenda of the formal talks, once it is scheduled, must be doable and time-bound, and talks on the release of NDF consultants can come later.

“Let’s see first if we can resume the talks and then let’s make sure the talks are doable and time-bound before we discuss anything else,” Lacierda said.

Sison said the Tiamzon couple —tagged as the head of the NPA —are needed for talks on a truce and cooperation agreement with the government.

In an earlier interview, government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla insisted that the Tiamzons, arrested for pending frustrated murder and murder cases, are not covered by the immunity agreement.

“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 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.

Despite the talk of peace, the military said Monday three soldiers were shot point blank by a group of eight NPA rebels, who stopped them at gunpoint along the national highway in Sitio Barigyan, Barangay Candinuiyan, Mabini, Compostela Valley.

First Lt. Vergel Lacambra, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said the soldiers were unarmed and in civilian clothes when they were waylaid at about 9:45 a.m.

“We strongly condemn this]treacherous attack by NPA bandits. Our soldiers were on their way from Barangay Anitapan for Christmas break when they were mercilessly waylaid and shot point blank by the rebels,” Lacambra said.

He did not name the victims as their families had not yet been notified.

“The soldiers also bore multiple gunshot wounds and were all already dead when found by responding troops,” Lacambra said.

Earlier, both the military and the NPA had declared a ceasefire for the Christmas season.


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