Communist leader Fernandez, wife charged after Liliw arrest

Complaints of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and violation of the election gun ban were filed against the couple and a companion. NDFP leaders say Fernandez is ill and was reportedly in Laguna to seek treatment.

Fernandez (left), his wife Cleofe Lagtapon (center), and companion Gee-Ann Perez are shown in slide photos during a press conference on Monday in Camp Crame.

SANTA ROSA CITY — National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Francisco “Frank” Fernandez was returned to Laguna Monday afternoon where he was charged at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Santa Cruz town, police said.

The charges were filed almost 36 hours after Fernandez, 71, a former priest who joined the communist movement in Negros Occidental in the 1980s, was arrested and held in a military hospital in Fort Bonifactio in Metro Manila.

Fernandez’s wife Cleofe Lagtapon, 66, and their companion, Gee-Ann Perez, 20, were also arrested. The police and army said the three were officers of the Communist Party of the Philippines’s regional committee in Negros, Cebu, Bohol, and Siquijor.

Laguna police director Colonel Eleazar Matta said they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, and violation of the election gun ban.

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Human rights group Karapatan and lawyer Kristina Conti of the Public Interest Law Center said they and Fernandez’s family have yet to see him since the arrest. In a statement, Karapatan accused the authorities of depriving lawyers access to the three. “Karapatan insisted that lawyers and paralegals should have access to those arrested,” it said. The couple, it added, were “reportedly in Laguna to seek medical treatment.”

NDFP officials denounced the arrests. “The NDFP strongly condemns the unjust arrest of Frank Fernandez and his partner. Frank is a publicly known consultant in the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace negotiations as NDF spokesperson for Negros,” said Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP negotiating panel chairman, according to a report by the alternative news site Kodao.

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Authorities said they found three .45 caliber pistols and three hand grenades from the couple’s rented home in Barangay Calumpang in Liliw town. Officials earlier reported that the arrest took place in Nagcarlan town, as the house was located on the boundary of both Liliw and Nagcarlan towns.

In press briefing in Camp Crame Monday morning, Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde said police and the army served the arrest warrant against Fernandez around 5 am Sunday.

Major General Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said Fernandez faced four arrest warrants for murder and multiple murder. One of the warrants also included Lagtapon.

“This (arrest) will definitely have an impact on their leadership (and) put an end to the efforts of (Jose Maria Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines founder) to bring back the peace negotiations at the national level,” Parayno said.

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks, paving the way for the government-initiated localized negotiations with the rebels.

Parayno said they have so far arrested six out of the 23 members of the NDF panel. (Laguna Now)