Tiamzon couple found guilty of kidnapping, serious illegal detention

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 27) — Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the communist leaders earlier released on bail to participate in peace talks with the government, have been convicted of the 1988 kidnapping and serious illegal detention of four Army lieutenants.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 216 sentenced the Tiamzons to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years imprisonment in a decision signed by Presiding Judge Alfonso Ruiz II on Friday.

The complainant, then First Lieutenant Abraham Claro Casis, testified that the Tiamzon couple led a group of New People’s Army rebels who abducted him and three other colleagues in Quezon province on June 1, 1988. He said they were kept for 75 days “against their will somewhere in Mauban, Quezon.”

The court found the Tiamzons “guilty beyond reasonable doubt.” It also ordered them to pay Casis P225,000 for moral and civil indemnity, as well as exemplary damages with an interest rate of 6% per year until the amount is fully paid.

The case was submitted for resolution based only on the evidence presented by the prosecution, since the accused have not appeared in court.

The Tiamzons walked free in August 2016 after being allowed to post bail to attend the peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway as consultants of the National Democratic Front. The NDF represents rebels in peace talks with the government to end the five-decade insurgency waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, NPA.

The Tiamzons were ordered rearrested two years later after President Rodrigo Duterte formally terminated the peace talks as rebels and government forces accused each other of ceasefire violations. The Tiamzons have since been considered fugitives. They are also facing murder charges in connection with an alleged massive communist purging in Inopacan, Leyte in the 1980s.

The defense counsels argued that based on Casis’ testimony, the Tiamzons were not among the armed rebels who kidnapped him and his colleagues. While this is true, the court pointed out that Casis saw the accused giving the orders at the Molave Detention Center, where the captors brought their victims.

“Based on the narration of facts of the complainant, the members of the organization including the accused conspired to commit the crime charged,” the court’s decision read. “Thus, they are responsible for everything done by their confederates, in view of the conspiracy, and considering that the accused appear to be actually the ones who are running the organization.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra welcomed the outcome of the three-decade trial, calling it “a victory for the prosecution.”

The CPP called it “political persecution.” It said it violates the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees, a 1995 agreement which the government unilaterally withdrew.

“That the case was pursued by DOJ (Department of Justice) show bad faith on part of GRP,” CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said. “Walang palabra de honor (No word of honor).”

“The charges of kidnapping are unjust and without basis. Disarming and detention of Army personnel as prisoners-of-war are legitimate and humane acts of war. They were released without ransom contrary to criminal act of kidnapping,” Valbuena added.

In a separate statement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it will continue to hunt the Tiamzons down. “The AFP will continue to strengthen its resolve to bring other criminals to justice in honor of the victims of the violence perpetrated by the CPP-NPA.”

The Duterte government considers the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group but this has to be tried and approved by the Court of Appeals in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Act.