A joint order issued by the Departments of Defense and of Interior and Local Government on bounties for communist rebel leaders acknowledges that an agreement that protects peace negotiators and their consultants from arrest and prosecution is still operative, a human rights group said Thursday.
Aside from this, “DND-DILG Order on Reward Number 14 (A)-2012” issued December 12, 2012, a copy of which was made available by Karapatan, orders the removal of five personalities covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees from a list of 235 rebels targeted for arrest or neutralization and for whom bounties have been raised.
These include Wilma Austria, whose husband Benito is said to chair the Communist Party of the Philippines.
DND-DILG Order on Reward Number 14 (A)-2012 (courtesy of Karapatan)
The Tiamzons were captured late last month in Cebu City and have been in detention since while awaiting trial on several charges.
Following their capture, the National Democratic Front, which represents communist rebels in peace negotiations with government, as well as human rights advocates have demanded the release of the couple because, as consultants of the NDF peace panel, they are covered by the JASIG.
However, the government has so far refused, insisting they are not immune from arrest. Some officials have also claimed that the stalling of the peace talks since 2011 has effectively suspended the JASIG.
However, the DND-DILG order, which amended the earlier DND-DILG Joint Order Number 14-2012, and both of which were issued months after the talks stalled the year before, says: “Pursuant to the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) dated 24 February 1995 and the current GPH (Government of the Philippines) list of JASIG-covered personalities, the following names are to be deleted from DND-DILG JOR Number 14-2012 in recognition of the pending peace negotiations and conditions upon the existence of said peace negotiations.”
Aside from Austria, who the order shows with a bounty of P10 million on her head, the others ordered delisted are:
- Rafael Baylosis (P7.8 million)
- Vicente Ladlad (P7.8 million)
- Reynaldo Bocala (P4.8 million)
- CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison (P10 million)
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, in a statement, said the government “cannot escape the fact that the … JASIG is operative and JASIG-protected persons are immune from arrest …”
She said the amended joint order and the government’s refusal to honor its commitments under the JASIG made it responsible for the continued failure of efforts to resume the peace negotiations.
Palabay also said the list of persons stricken from the government’s target list is “incomplete,” saying there are 14 NDF consultant currently in detention and facing “trumped up criminal charges,” including Eduardo Sarmiento of Samar, who was sentenced to 40 years in jail last December for illegal possession of explosives, the first to be convicted under President Benigno Aquino III.
“There are also 13 NDF consultants and staff who are victims of enforced disappearance,” Palabay added.
Karapatan and other human rights advocates have branded the government list and bounty system as an “organized racket” by state security agencies to cash in not only on the capture of wanted rebels but also of alleged “fall guys,” among these security guard Rolly Panesa, who was seized by intelligence agents in Quezon City in October 2012 and then identified to media as Southern Tagalog rebel leader Benjamin Mendoza.
Panesa, who was severely tortured after his capture, was eventually ordered released by the courts who ruled him the victim of mistaken identity.
Nevertheless, the military handed out a P5.6-million reward to a supposed informant for the capture of the rebel “Mendoza” and also sought to have Panesa arrested again on the same charges already dismissed by the courts.
The military has refused to explain what happened to the bounty for Mendoza after the courts cleared Panesa.