With peace consultants arrested by state elements, peace groups question the Aquino government’s sincerity in peace talks
The illegal arrest and detention of peace consultants is a step backward in the peace process.
This is the statement of the Asia Pacific Committee for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (APCHRPP) as it condemns the illegal arrest by the Philippine government’s security forces of Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria in Cebu, Philippines last 22 March 2014.
Both Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and are helping very actively in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH) and the NDFP.
The GRP/GPH is imperiling the peace negotiations as well as violating agreements that it has signed with the NDFP with the arrest of Tiamzon and Austria. The specific agreement that the GRP/GPH violated is the JASIG, or the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
Both Tiamzon and Austria are holders of Document of Identification as well as a Letter of Acknowledgment signed by then GRP/GPH Negotiating Panel Chairman Silvestre H. Bello III. The said Letter of Acknowledgment states that the holder of the said Letter is entitled to safety and immunity guarantees as provided in the JASIG, which was signed by members of the negotiating panels of both the GRP/GPH and the NDFP on 24 February 1995.
Composed of various organizations and networks in many countries based in the Asia Pacific region, the APCHRPP is concerned that the Philippine government is only further prejudicing the peace negotiations by arresting and detaining peace consultants like Tiamzon and Austria.
The group also questions the inquest of Tiamzon and Austria in Camp Crame, a military camp in Manila, where they were also charged with additional cases like illegal possession of firearms and explosives. According to the lawyer of the two arrested peace consultants, Atty. Rachel Pastores, the validity of the inquest proceedings itself is in question while the new charges did not register in earlier reports of the arrest. Such proceedings being led by the government are highly contentious and unacceptable.
The arrest of Tiamzon and Austria comes on top of many human rights violations being committed in the Philippines. According to Philippine human rights group Karapatan, since Philippine president Benigno Aquino III took office, 169 cases of extrajudicial killings have been documented, in addition to 179 cases of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 19 cases of enforced disappearances, 86 cases of torture and 570 cases of illegal arrest and detention.
How will just and lasting peace be achieved when those in authority are the ones violating the very agreements that they signed with the NDFP? Why would they arrest those who are important to the peace negotiations? With this new development, it is hard not to cast doubts on the sincerity of the Philippine government to pursue peace when their actions clearly run counter to their statements.
If President Aquino and the Philippine government really want just and lasting peace, then it should heed the urgent demand to release immediately and unconditionally Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria.
Rev. Joram H. Calimutan
Asia Pacific Committee for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines