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Philippine army chief calls on insurgents to lay down arms following arrest of communist leader

Tiamson and wife not covered by immunity clause, government says

Image Credit: EPA/AP
Benito Tiamson and Wilma Austria
Gulf News

Manila: Armed Forces Chief Emmanuel Bautista on Sunday called on insurgents to lay down their arms following the Saturday arrest of communist leader Benito Tiamson and six others in Cebu.

Bautista, in a press briefing, announced that Tiamson and his wife, Wilma Austria, were arrested by joint units of the national police and the military on the basis of an arrest warrant issued against them for committing “crimes against humanity” and the murder and attempted killing of several others in Samar.

“They will be committed to the PNP (Philippine National Police) custodial centre in Camp Crame in suburban Quezon City. The arrest is another victory for the combined efforts between the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Bautista said.

Tiamson and Austria were arrested at around 3.15pm by authorities while riding in a two-vehicle convoy in Aluginsan town in Cebu, Bautista said.

At the same time, he called on all members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) to “lay down their arms and abandon the armed struggle.”

“In many areas of the country the insurgents have lost their ideological moorings and have degenerated into bandit groups primarily focused on extortion activities only,” he said.

The group commanded an estimated 25,000 armed regulars deployed in various parts of the country during the mid-1980s, but now the membership of the CPP-NPA, according military appraisals, has dwindled to around 4,000 people.

Tiamzon, who is in his mid-60s, heads the CPP as chairman of the central committee while Austria is the finance officer.

On Saturday, hours after the arrests, the CPP-NPA’s united front-building arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF) announced that the arrests were “illegal” because it violates an agreement between the government and the rebels concerning the conduct of peace negotiations and the arrest of appointed negotiators.

Tiamzon and Austria were earlier nominated as negotiators in talks with the government.

The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) is supposed to provide immunity to rebel negotiators for the duration of the talks.

Responding to this, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Tiamzon and Austria were not covered by the Jasig.

Lacierda said the government peace panel found that Tiamson had violated Jasig stipulations and was therefore not immune to arrest.

“You will recall that both the NDF and the government agreed to a procedure in July 2011 to verify the true identities of several dozen alleged NDF consultants in the list of Jasid–protected individuals carrying aliases,” Lacierda read from a statement prepared by the peace panel.

“But through no fault of government, the NDF failed to open their own files that purportedly contained the photos and true identities of the said NDF consultants,” he added.

“This failure had the effect of rendering the Jasig inoperative for those using aliases,” he said.

“Wilma Austria Tiamzon, on the other hand, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on December 26, 1989, before the Jasig came into effect,” he added.

The rebels “only have themselves to blame for rendering the Jasig inoperative for most of their alleged consultants.”