Tiamzon couple: To release or not to release

Posted at 03/26/14 8:22 PM

Tiamzons never part of peace talks, says chief GPH negotiator

But Tiamzons' lawyer insists they were consultants in talks

MANILA -- The chairman of the government peace panel negotiating with the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army - National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) insisted that Benito and Wilma Tiamzon were never part of the peace negotiations.

In an interview on ANC's "Headstart" on Wednesday, Alex Padilla said Wilma only "participated to some degree" in the peace process 20 years ago. But since then, he never saw even the "shadows" of Wilma nor Benito, he said.

He said the Tiamzon couple is only using the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which was signed by the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF back in 1995, to shield themselves from arrest.

Under the JASIG, people participating in the peace talks are immune from arrests.

"I'm already the 5th panel chair of the negotiating panel for the government, and I've never seen the shadow of Wilma or Benito... I understand that Wilma participated to some degree in the peace process sometime in 1994 or 1995, but that was almost 20 years ago. Still you don't see her participating now. The situation has been that they are continuously waging war, and when they are caught, they invoke JASIG in order to be released," Padilla said.

However, Rachel Pastores, the lawyer of the Tiamzon couple, called Padilla's statement "inaccurate" and insisted that the two are consultants in the peace negotiations.

Pastores said that just because they were not present on the negotiating table does not mean they were never part of the peace process.

"The peace negotiation is quite a complex process. Are the parties required to be on the negotiating table? At the side of the other members of the panel of the GPH? Because the formal talks is just one aspect of the peace negotiation. There is the research, education, going to the fields. It's a complex process. So the mere fact that they are not seen directly negotiating on the table with members of the GPH doesn't mean they have no actual participation in the peace negotiation," she said.

"If you release them now, maybe they can join the negotiating table. If you want them actually seen participating in the peace negotiation, you release them now and I think they will be joining the negotiating table," she said.

Failure of JASIG verification

According to Pastores, when the couple was arrested in Cebu last Saturday, Benito had with him his document of identification, which supposedly proved that he is among those listed and covered by the JASIG.

While she admitted that Benito only used an alias, she said the ID presented by Benito has a picture "and the bearer is the one who is in the picture."

But Padilla pointed out that those using aliases are no longer entitled to protection following the failure of the verification process of the JASIG in July 2011.

He explained that the NDF failed to prove the identities of those with aliases, thus voiding the agreement.

He said after that incident, the NDF then wanted to reconstruct the list, but the government refused.

"Because they might include names there that were not previously put there before. In other words, all those who are arrested now may suddenly be included in the new list and that would force government to release them," he said.

Padilla also noted that the government has had its share of "bad experiences" in the release of arrested people listed under the JASIG.

"It's not as if government was not releasing any of their consultants. In fact, there was some release and I think 2 or 3 of them went underground after the release. I'm sure if they were arrested, they will also invoke JASIG in order to be released again."

"So that's the problem. We wanted people who actually participate in the peace process to be those that would be protected, but not those who use the peace process in order to shield themselves from arrest," he said.

Murder charges vs Tiamzons fabricated: lawyer

Meanwhile, Pastores alleged that the charges of multiple murder and frustrated murder filed against the Tiamzons were fabricated.

The charges were in relation to the alleged involvement of the Tiamzons in the killing of civilians in Inopacan, Leyte, whose bodies were supposedly discovered in a mass grave in 2006.

"If we look at the case, it is clearly a trumped up charge. They presented false witnesses. They claimed that the victims there were killed by members of the NPA and they enumerated 10 names. But we learned later that some of those in the list were also alleged victims whose bones were allegedly discovered in another mass grave from a different place."

"So how is it that they're being charged of multiple murder for these victims who were allegedly found in this locality, but we learned these are the same victims supposedly discovered in a different mass grave?" Pastores said.

She also said there is no sufficient evidence to prove that the Tiamzons were the perpetrators of the killing.

Padilla said this is "even more reason for them to go through with the case and prove their innocence."

"And if and when they are acquitted, that's the time they will be released," he said.

Hope for peace?

According to Padilla, the CPP-NPA previously stated that they "do not want peace" and are only after the "toppling of the government by violence," adding that the communists have refused to agree on a ceasefire.

"Therefore, they are not really interested as far as peace is concerned. That's our view. They are only interested in having their people released," he said.

Nonetheless, he said the government's doors are still open for talks. "But we want to see some talks that are doable, time-bound and complete results can be seen," he said.

Pastores, meanwhile, said the fact that the NDF is talking to the government means that they also want to address the problems through peace negotiations.

"The fact that the NDF is talking to the government to discuss the root cause of the problem and to help the government end the root cause of the armed conflict which is poverty, then that is reason that I think the GPH should grasp and take as an opportunity in order to move the country and resolve the root cause of the problem," she said.