NDF to ask courts to stop arrest of freed peace talk consultants

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) — The National Democratic Front (NDF) on Thursday said it will ask courts to stop the arrest of their consultants who were freed following President Rodrigo Duterte's termination of peace talks between the government and Communist rebels.

NDF legal consultant Edre Olalia said they will oppose the Justice Department's Motion for the Recommitment and Cancellation of bail for NDF consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, and Adelberto Silva.

Silva and the Tiamzons were granted provisional liberty in 2016 to participate in peace negotiations between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines' political arm, the NDF. However, after Duterte formally ended the negotiations through Proclamation 360, the Justice Department has sought their re-arrest.

READ: Duterte formally ends talks with Reds

In a motion filed November 24, the Department of Justice asked courts to cancel the bail of the freed NDF consultants and bring them back to jail.

"In view of the cancellation of the peace talks, there is no more legal ground for the continuous provisional liberty of the accused," the motion said.

Olalia warned that the authorities cannot arrest the consultants just yet.

"Arrest must be made through the judicial process, and it's through the courts that arrest can be made," he said.

The Regional Trial Court of Manila Branch 32 has given the lawyers of the Tiamzon couple five days to respond to the motion. However, lawyers could not say if  the NDF consultants will submit themselves to the courts go into hiding.

They said all legal options are still open.

With the negotiations turning shaky early this year, the Tiamzons have been keeping a low profile and are rarely seen in public.

The Tiamzons are said to have been the most ranking communist leaders prior to their arrest for murder in 2014.

They are facing several criminal charges including murder, after being linked to a massive communist purge in the 1980s.

With Duterte cracking down on communists, the NDF said they and other freed consultants need to be extra cautious.

"Nalaman nila na meron pang, may nakakasang arrest operations, even without the arrest orders ha,"NDF Peace Panel Consultant Rey Claro Casambre said.

[Translation: They found out there are arrest operations being planned even without arrest orders.]

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Ray Leonard Guerrero, meanwhile, has vowed that the military will follow protocol.

"We have to understand itong agreement na ito, may mga procedures na dapat i-follow, and we will have to follow these procedures," said Guerrero.

[Translation: We have to understand this agreement has procedures that must be followed, and we will have to follow these procedures.]

The NDF, meanwhile, insists they have yet to receive a formal notice that the government wants to terminate the talks. It said it will take at least a month, before this becomes executory.

"It's a bilateral agreement. It is not to protect one side. It is to protect both sides," Olalia said.

The communist insurgency is Asia's longest running armed struggle spanning nearly half a century since the CPP was founded in 1968 by then student activist Jose Ma. Sison. The group has taken up arms, believing it can change what it calls an oppressive regime through the years.

Negotiations have been on and off since the term of former President Cory Aquino in 1986 until the Duterte administration. The talks were finally terminated in November 2017 after President Duterte expressed his disgust over an increase in attacks against government forces by the communists' armed faction, the New People's Army.

On Tuesday, Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army a terrorist organization.

READ: President Duterte declares the communist party and its armed wing a terrorist organization