Duterte orders arrest of communist rebels' consultants: Immunity, along with peace talks, terminated

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reiterated his withdrawal of immunity extended to the consultants of the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

President Duterte said the release of the consultants were on the condition that the NDFP participated in the peace talks.

"Since it has been entirely scrapped-I'll just give them a few days. But if they come to the Philippines, if they come back, they will be re-arrested and placed inside the prison," Duterte told reporters in an interview.

Also read: Duterte lifts ceasefire; says communists' demands 'too huge, impossible to meet'

Duterte said if the consultants are here in the country, the military and the police will start looking for them.

The Philippine National Police were ordered to arrest the following NDFP consultants:

- Wilma Tiamzon

- Benito Tiamzon

- Vic Ladlad

- Edelberto Silva

- Alfonso Jasmines

- Alfredo Mapano

- Loida Magpatoc

- Pedro Cudaste

- Ruben Saluta

- Ernesto Lorenzo

- Porferio Tuna

- Renante Gamara

- Tirso Alcantara

The President said that the government panel will no longer go back to the negotiating table with the communists.

"Ayoko na, ayoko na. Ayoko ng niloloko ako," Duterte said. [I'm no longer interested, I'm no longer interested. I don't want them to think they can fool me.]

Also read: Rebels end unilateral ceasefire: We'll 'negotiate while fighting'

Duterte's angry remarks and exasperation come after the communists' armed unit, the New People's Army, resumed hostilities and killed soldiers brutally in sporadic clashses in the southern island of Mindanao.

The President had also released top communist leaders in a show of good faith as government and the communist rebels returned to the negotiating table, with talks held in Rome last month.

NDFP: JASIG still in effect

A day after President Duterte named NDFP as a "terrorist group," activist group Karapatan reported that NDFP consultant Ariel Arbitrario and his brother Crispulo were held in a checkpoint in Toril while in transit from Davao City.

According to Karapatan , the checkpoint was allegedly manned by Task Force Davao, which is allegedly composed of composite military units. They claim, the team gave no explanation for holding Arbitrario.

In a statement, Edre Olalia, legal counsel for the NDFP panel said the panel's political consultants temporarily released on bail cannot just be re-arrested on mere orders of Duterte.

Olalia said peace negotiations have not been properly terminated since "no written notice has been given by the GRP to the NDFP to date."

"According to the Joint Agreement on Safety & Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the safety and immunity guarantees, and the peace negotiations itself, can only be terminated by written notice given by one party to the other and which would take effect only after 30 days from its receipt," Olalia noted.

He also pointed out that JASIG, therefore, is still in effect — and that the NDFP political consultants as such are "guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the peace negotiations."

Olalia also stressed that the immunity guarantees extend to immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution, interrogation, or any other similar punitive actions.

"Only the courts which granted  them temporary liberty by virtue of cash bails... can act or order whether or not they can be validly rearrested, if at all, and not by the unilateral action of the PNP nor the AFP, much less even by the mere instructions of the GRP President," Olalia said.

But President Duterte only had this to say: "Basta lahat na mag-surrender tanggapin ko." [I will accept only those who will surrender.]

Also read: AFP on communist rebels: 'We will hit them hard'

Appeals for peace talks

Lawmakers were divided, with some siding with the President and his decision and blaming the communists, while others urged Duterte not to give up just yet.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate appealed to Duterte to reconsider his decision to end the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF. The leftist lawmaker believes now is not the time to bail on the peace process.

"If there are incidents on the ground, that is precisely the reason why this is not the time to abandon the peace talks," Zarate said, adding the discussion on the socio-economic agenda was moving forward.

Senator Risa Hontiveros hoped for a last-ditch effort. "Panawagan sa gobyerno at sa NDF sana at dapat gumawa parin sila ng paraan," she said.

Also read: Duterte: CPP-NPA-NDF a terrorist group

Other lawmakers agreed with Duterte's decision.

"When you kill members of our armed force while peace talks are on-going that is not good faith," COOP-NATCCO Party List Rep. Anthony Bravo said, adding it should be the Communists that meet the government halfway.

Ako-Bicol Partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. agreed and said: "They are already fooling us with their conflicting statements and actions which has already cost the lives of at least three soldiers."

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said suspension, rather than termination of talks could have been a better option to give both panels ample time to rethink their views.

"Mukhang tama lang na masuspend muna dahil para makapag-usap yung grupo pero it doesn't mean na itigil na, wag na muna ituloy," Lacoson said. [It looks like it's better to suspend it in the meantime so that the groups couls talk, but it doesn't mean it should be cancelled.]

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls, David Santos, Gerg Cahiles and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.